Hey folks, Ambush Bug here for AICN Comics, playing a little catch-up after last week’s @$$IE AWARDS. So if you missed it, be sure to check our 4th Annual Awards column and don’t forget to check back on Fridays for our AICN Comics News Column: SHOOT THE MESSENGER for news, interviews, and more sweet @$$ie goodness. This Friday we'll have a report from last week's STAPLE! EXPO. So be sure to check it out. On with the reviews!
KICK – ASS # 1
Writer: Mark Millar Pencils: John Romita Jr. Publisher: Icon Reviewer: Optimous DoucheThe kick-off issue of KICK-ASS reminded me of a lap-dance at a strip club. Imagine you’re in an establishment of ill repute doling out dollar bills to sow after heifer, when finally a petite pole master comes along that you find utterly exquisite and worthy of twenty dollars for grinding on your nether regions for three minutes and thirty-five seconds. You go into the back room and she takes you to paradise for three minutes and thirty-four seconds, then in the last second, she picks up her platform heel, and proceeds to pound you repeatedly in the testicles with the force of Thor’s hammer while telling you you’re hung like a pre-pubescent eunuch. This is the exact sensation I had when I closed the last page of KICK-ASS. And before you ask, yes, I have the knowledge to draw this comparison.>br> This book should be a comic nerd’s dream. The central character, David, is one of our own. He’s a kid too smart to excel within the confines of the public education system and as a result spends his days locked within his own imagination. He’s not a loser, nor is he the Big Man On Campus. He loves comic books, masturbating and “Scrubs”. I changed the order of how those three items appeared in the book because David was so damn identifiable that my brain just naturally reordered them in my favorite ranking order. Where David, myself, and any one of you reading this column who can name all of the doctors at Sacred Heart Hospital differ, is that David is functionally retarded. Of course I don’t mean literally (although I can’t wait for that book to come out), but the choices he makes throughout this title would definitely make one pause before giving him a job on the fry machine.
I was elated by the premise of this title. I fell hook line and sinker for the 35 point font on the cover proclaiming this title to be the greatest superhero book of all time. Except, there was no real hero and I could not find an ounce of super except when David was defending the necessity to truncate comic canon when portraying comic book characters in film to his friends.
So what is this book about? Fuck if I know. David likes super heroes, decides the world is a bad place, buys a wet suit on e-Bay and decides he’s going to go out and clear his neighborhood from scum and villainy. Except David doesn’t go through any training montage where he hones his skills to razor perfection in the course of eight panels and there’s no radio active spider that grants him super human capabilities. He’s a scrawny kid in a wet suit taking on gang members that bare a strange resemblance to Sanjaya from American Idol. There’s a fine line between gallantry and blind fool recklessness; David crosses that line with the thrust and distance of a Kenyan long jumper at the Olympics.
I’m not the type of reader that needs spandex and earth shattering cataclysms to hold my attention. It’s for that very reason that Y: THE LAST MAN was one of my favorite titles of the past five years. But Yorick Brown never claimed to be a superhero, nor was it ever touted in obnoxious font on the cover. Yorick had a way to defend himself with his wits and his escape artistry; basically, he had more than a wet suit at his disposal before throwing himself head first into danger.
There are three reasons that I will plunk down another $2.99 for the second issue of KICK-ASS: Millar’s reputation, my love of Romita’s “Where the Wild Things Are” art style and the fact that this entire origin issue is told as a flash back. There were actually a few promising panels where David is getting tortured by some “Sopranos” looking thugs for costing their operation money, so he obviously gets better at stopping crime.
Really though, if I’m expected to hang in for future issues, this title needs to find its radioactive spider fast. If I wanted to watch a skinny blonde kid that wears glasses, likes comic books and gets the living piss beat out of him, I’ll just go to a hypnotherapist and have them unlock all of the memories I’ve been trying to suppress since high school. Mark, John, I ask this one simple favor: please don't kick me in the nuts again.
YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS HULKLING #2 of 6
Writer: Brian Reed Artist: Harvey Tolibao Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI said last month how happy I was with issue #1 of this series. I went in skeptical and was pleasantly surprised. But given the fact that each issue of the series was going to feature a different creative team I had to go into issue #2 with the same doubt. Maybe team two will blow it.
They don’t blow it. Not at all. What a great issue. And while each issue stands on its own with no continuing story this series does seem to have a running thematic that’s a strong one. It’s not just some throwaway story about one of the Young Avengers. Instead each issue – so far – deals with one of the characters having to take stock of who they are and coming to terms with the father figures in their lives. This time around it’s Hulking’s turn. Hulking is the half Skrull/Half Kree son of Captain Mar-Vell who recently has taken a break from being dead. When Mar-Vell was revived via a time travel cheat it was greeted as a fairly lame development. I’d almost say the whole thing was worth it just for this story. A kid getting a chance to talk to his father who died before he was born, who he never got to meet? Powerful stuff. As with issue #1 there’s the requisite action too but this is another issue about deeper stuff. And the end is just a punch to the heart. Damn.
Let’s see if they keep it up with issue #3. If they do, next issue could be a killer. Again, the thematic has been kids and their parental figures. Well, issue #3 will center on Wiccan and Speed, the two Young Avengers who seem linked to the Scarlet Witch. They’re twins who have the same names as the Scarlet Witch and Vision’s “imaginary” twins – Thomas and William. They also have powers that vibe off of Scarlet Witch’s and her brother Quicksilver’s. Please don’t blow it. Pleeeease don’t blow it.
Jinxo is Thom Holbrook, lifelong comic book reader, and the evil genius behind poobala.com. He may appear cute and cuddly but if encountered avoid eye contact and DO NOT attempt to feed.
Written by Mat Johnson Art by Warren Pleece Published by Vertigo / DC Reviewed by Stones ThrowWhen I first announced to my fellow @$$holes that I would be reviewing this recent original graphic novel from Vertigo, the always-insightful Squashua immediately shot back with “They made SOUL MAN into a comic book?” Personally, I was expecting something more along the lines of the Eddie Murphy sketch on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE where Eddie puts on white make-up and discovers a world of free gifts and catered bus rides.
Turns out we were both wrong. INCOGNEGRO is actually set against the race conflict and the activity of the KKK in the early 20th century, and is loosely inspired by the true story of Warren Francis White, the former head of the NAACP, a pale-skinned African-American who went undercover to investigate the Elaine Race Riot of 1919. The book is written by Mat Johnson, a crime and non-fiction novelist who is also, in his words, “a black boy who looked white”. I can imagine that it was a real coup for Vertigo, as an interesting story that deserves to be told regardless of the comic book medium. This is probably where having a writer who doesn’t originally hail from comic books was actually an advantage.
I’ll be honest: this review intimidated me for a while. It’s not just that the book is a serious one not rooted in genre or escapism, or that it focuses on a particularly uncomfortable moment in American history, but sadly, that the issues it’s dealing with are still incredibly sensitive ones. And I’m a white, non-American guy. It’s still difficult to know how to talk about people like Zane Pinchback, the main character in this story. “Mixed race” is the current favored term, but even that has connotations that don’t seem appropriate. So I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the book skillfully manages to tease out these complicated themes and ask the important questions. Probably the most resonant piece of writing comes in an internal monologue when Pinchback, just back in New York after a frighteningly close shave at the start of the book, gets ready to go “incognegro” again:
“That’s the one thing most of us know that white folks don’t. That race doesn’t really exist. Culture? Ethnicity? Sure. Class too. But race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom.”
Maybe this was the thinking behind Vertigo stalwart Warren Pleece’s (HELLBLAZER, DEADENDERS) excellent, sparse artwork as well. There were no shades of gray, just black and white, and because of this it’s sometimes difficult to tell who’s black and who’s white, which seems to fit well with the subject matter of the story.
But the best part of INCOGNEGRO is that it’s actually about a murder mystery in Tupelo, Mississippi, and Zane Pinchback’s efforts to get his brother out of jail, and the tragic, foolhardy actions of his similarly pale-skinned best friend, and a mean-@$$ Klansman out to get them. Race issues and discussion are the context, but Johnson’s story is a gripping one in its own right.
One of my favorite films is Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING, and that’s one work I might compare INCOGNEGRO to, in the way that it manages to juggle humor and optimism with action, suspense and weighty themes. What with the classic miniseries THE OTHER SIDE, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD (which I personally thought was pretty overrated, as the cool kids are wont to say), and the upcoming CAIRO, the Vertigo imprint seems to be doing some great work with important stories about real life that are still compelling. This one certainly comes with the highest recommendation.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #119
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis Penciler: Stewart Immonen Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI have such love for this book. Marvel so desperately wants to get the 616 Spider-Man back to the iconic Spidey? Lost cause. To do that you need him in high school. And as other before me have said, we already have that in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. He’s all the Spidey I needs.
Now in general I love ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, but in particular I am really enjoying the current Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends arc. It’s got excitement, emotion, action…okay, so far it hasn’t had action in the form of battles but, hey, it has heroes rescuing naked girls falling from the sky! That’s good action in my book. And I haven’t seen the whole mutant/adolescence analogy used to this fine an effect in a long time. This issue begins with Peter’s friend and long time mutant-phobe Liz Allen discovering she is a mutant when she bursts into flames. Her fear and anxiety at discovering who she is, her fear of not fitting in, is movingly palpable. And at the same time that’s going on, you get the retro Saturday Morning flashback of seeing Spider-Man and Ice Man zipping around New York lending a hand to Firestar!
And then there is the coolest hero, the most amazing friend in the whole book. Damn it, Kenny is maybe my favorite character in comics in a long time. He isn’t a super hero. He’s just a kid, another student at Peter Parker’s school. He’s been in the book since maybe the first issue. He started off as just one of the big, dumb, heartless jocks who was the bane of Peter’s existence. Then the irony developed as Kenny turned into Spider-Man’s biggest fan. Only, as it turns out, Kenny is not a dumb jock. He’s sharp. Nobody else can figure out who Spider-Man is. Kenny does. And he’s not heartless. He’s a noble son of a bitch. Last issue spelled out that even though Kenny knows Peter’s secret, he’s leaving it as Peter’s secret. He wants to tell Peter he knows, to help him out…but he doesn’t. It’s Peter’s secret. How he deals with it has to be his call. Awesome. And this issue he steps up again. This issue has Spider-Man, The Human Torch, Ice Man and Kitty Pryde in it. Four major heroes. Yet when things go crazy that need dealt with, it’s Kenny who really steps up and makes quite the quiet heroic move, making a decision about what is really important. It’s a big small moment. Seriously brings a tear to my eye. Kenny is the man.
I do have one huge complaint about this issue though. People, if you are building up to a huge surprise ending, a reveal so important you give it a double page splash image, why oh WHY would you destroy that ending by featuring it on the cover?!?!? Seriously, why should I try to avoid spoilers when the comic itself doesn’t try to? Why not use that as the cover to the next issue??? I’m telling you, if Kenny was running things at Marvel, this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen.
BLUE BEETLE #24
Writer: John Rogers Artist: Rafael Albuquerque Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoThis book still rocks. There are so many different threads that are being pulled together here, it’s going to be hard for a newcomer to catch up, so you can either wait for the trade, or go to your LCS and pull a few of the back issues off the shelf…if they are there. Albuquerque’s art has an (and I rarely use this word, but an) organic feel. It has a mood that matches the action, yet is well suited for conversation, with an occasional “TA-DA” stance where you go, “Cool!”
Let’s talk plot. And let’s talk about our protagonist.
Just in case anyone missed it, Jamie Reyes is a hero. After enjoying an ability to pull a super-arsenal out of his super-arse for the past two years, he’s stuck on the enemy ship with no suit, no powers. No nuthin’. And he will not give up. THAT’S a hero.
And he teaches us a thing or two about priorities: “Pants. Then spaceship. In that order.” Words to live by.
Like I always say, a hero without his pants is like…like…well, Michael Jackson, I guess. Okay, I don’t have any sayings like that. But maybe I should from now on!
He has a supporting cast of flawed but eminently likable people. Besides his friends, his mom and his dad are actually (gasp!) cool and dependable and clever and loving. When’s the next time you’re gonna see that? I admit, they resemble the parents I had not at all, but they do resemble the parent I’m trying to be. (I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that many of the people who read this are at least capable of procreating, if they haven’t already.) So I like, nay, RESPECT that aspect of the book.
But that is just gravy. If the action and clever writing didn’t carry the book, all the nice little touches wouldn’t matter at all. But Rogers has paced this book well, and I’m really enjoying all the payoffs that are coming. Especially since I think I know what the last page means. It’s gonna be an excellent 25th issue.
Dante “Rock-Me” Amodeo has been reading comics for thirty-five years. His first novel, “Saban and The Ancient” (an espionage/paranormal thriller) was published 2006. He began writing for AICN Comics in 2007 and his second novel (“Saban Betrayed”) is due 2008. He’s often told he has a great face for radio.
BLACK PANTHER ANNUAL #1
Writer: Reginald Hudlin Pencils: Larry Stroman and Ken Lashley Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: JinxoI just don’t understand. What inspired this issue? Was the idea to find a way to repeat the theme of last year’s big Black Panther wedding issue? Was it somehow inspired by the idea of doing something for Black History Month? Why? “Black To The Future”? Really?
Here’s the idea. The story is set in a “possible” future (it will never EVER happen) where Storm and Panther’s son is about to get married. Storm’s other son is upset by the marriage and, for some reason, Storm thinks telling him the ENTIRE history of Wakanda will bring him around. I’m thinking she was trying to bore him into submission. We hear everything from the days of slavery through to future Marvel events that, again, WILL NEVER HAPPEN. Even if they were ever intended to happen they sure wouldn’t now. All the good bits would be totally spoiled by this story. Then when we are shown the source of this “future tale”…ugh! It’s such an annoying twist. Worse than making it a “What If”.
I will say this. I think it was a well intentioned effort. Put some info out there about black history, put out a positive uplifting story. But…it just didn’t work for me. And, can I just say, that marriage is doomed to being, at best, a mediocre pairing. I mean, if those kids were really going to have a spectacular marriage, clearly Mephisto would have shown up. Always a sign of a super happy marriage when the devil shows up. No devil here. Ah well.
X-FORCE #1 (2008)
Writers: Kyle & Yost Artist: Crain Publisher: Marvel Reviewer: Optimous DoucheThere are several essential elements one should take into consideration before they form a black-ops team.
The members that comprise your black-ops organization should be relatively obscure characters unbeknownst to the population at large. This is of course to protect the team members’ respective identities and disassociate them with any larger team affiliation in the event that they are captured and tortured for information.
They should be able to kill without remorse. These are your trigger people; you can’t afford to have anyone on the team with a strong moral code or embroiled in some kind of ancient spirituality that respects all life no matter how base and immoral that life might be.
Finally, there should be a thin moral line on whether the object of the team’s quest actually deserves to die.
Then you have X-FORCE #1.
To find the flaws in this book, you need to first start with the team members. Wolfsbane, Wolverine, X-23 and Warpath are charged by Scott Summers to cross the line that no X-Man has ever crossed before.
Let’s go back to the first tenet of Optimous Douche’s recipe for a well baked black-ops team. Are any of these characters unknown? Find me one character from this line-up that hasn’t been plastered in almost every X-book as of late (Wolverine of course being in EVERY X-book). I can see the scene now: Angel sits next to Wolverine after a particularly nasty bout with a mutant menace and asks, “So what did you do today?” Wolverine has two choices--lie through his teeth, or give wing-boy a SNIKT right to the jugular.
It’s a small mansion, folks; someone (probably Kitty Pryde if she can stop boning Colossus for five minutes or Lockheed if he wasn’t helping the two with the reach-arounds) is inevitably going to stumble on to the fact that none of these people are going on regular missions anymore. I know with Marvel’s new mantra of “continuity be damned” this simple observation has probably not even been considered in the writers’ room, but for those of spending our hard earned dollars to keep abreast of all things X related, we would like to some level of continuity between books even if the books aren’t in the throes of a “major event”.
Speaking of continuity, it would have been really nice if the issue of X-FACTOR with Wolfbane’s departure was delivered before the first issue of X-FORCE. When not waxing poetic for the pages of AICN, I toil in the trenches of corporate communications, so I fully understand the complexities of keeping a tight editorial schedule. Marvel, I implore you to hire a few less “creative” types and get some disciplined publishers in your ranks tout suite.
Anyway, I digress. Where were we? Right, building a well rounded black-ops team. The second dash of seasoning needed for a zesty black-ops organization is the ability to kill without remorse. Scott Summers (after eating a retard sandwich for breakfast) decides to laden his covert force with two of the biggest holy rollers in the Marvel universe. Wolverine and “Wolvie with Boobies” are straight up psycho killers (Qu'est-ce que c'est?), so they were perfect choices to be on this team. But Wolfsbane and Warpath? Wolfsbane is mired in more catholic guilt than an altar boy circa 1978. Warpath, while he has killed before, always needs to retreat back to the casino…I mean the reservation to cleanse his soul after each neck snap. Even if these two can complete a job, they will always have that moment of hesitation and as a result end up putting the team in jeopardy. Hell, even in the first issue Wolverine tells the team that this is a job for him and him alone. This is while they are standing 100 yards away from the objective. Stealth is also a component of a black-ops team, guys.
I’m not sure if I need to cover the final tenet of a good black-ops team since this book so blatantly disregarded the first two, but here it goes: ensure that your main objective is not 100% emphatically a “bad guy”. Make us as readers empathize with this individual that is about to meet their maker. Ever since the Purifiers laid waste to the baby mutants a few years ago, is there any doubt that this organization needs to be engaged with lethal force? As a matter of fact, hasn’t Wolverine already hacked and slashed his way through the faceless denizens of this organization in the past? Because that’s all that really happens in this book.
This book is a perfect example of poor execution married to a faulty premise. The art is hyper stylized, so we never get a true feel for the carnage that is being wrought. It feels as though Kyle and Yost are still writing NEw X-MEN, ACADEMY X, NEW MUTANTS: THE NEXT GENERATION or whatever the hell you want to call the latest book tagged to the newbie crop of X-Men. This is not a book about teenagers; this is a book about people on a mission to kill.
I know what Marvel is doing. Someone picked up an issue of Previews before the Sinestro War launched, they saw that the Green Lantern Corps will be given the mandate to protect with extreme prejudice and said, ‘Oh wow, we need a book where our characters can kill people”. Guess what, guys; you’ve had that for the past thirty years with Wolverine. Deadpool kills with a smile and snide remark in almost every issue he appears in. Basically, you have a stable of killers, so use them.
It’s a simple rule of business; you will never trump your competitors by simply copying their ideas (poorly). If you want to redeem this book and write a black-ops tale as it should be told, simply head to the TPB section of your comic shop and look for the final issues of STORMWATCH. Not only do they adhere to the Douche's rules of black-ops goodness, but they are also masterfully written.
Story: Jim Krueger and Alex Ross Script: Jim Krueger Art: Doug Braithwaite and Alex Ross (fyi Braithwaite pencils, Ross paints over the top) Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: barking_frogIt's no secret Alex Ross is a 70's pop culture addict. If you're old enough to remember Super Friends, JUSTICE seals the deal, but certainly doesn't rely on nostalgia to do so. It's an effectively-told story with modern versions of Silver Age takes on the characters (which only seems an odd thing to say), and a concluding message that's actually original, in my experience, in a superhero comic. How often do you get an original message in a JLA story?
JUSTICE is full of memorable scenes and images: Superman's beating -- the heart-to-heart between Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman as creatures of magic -- Braithwaite's and Ross's visuals of the Batcave and Fortress of Solitude -- Flash's desperation in the first issue.
Alex Ross's mysterious ability to put photorealistic people in photorealistic spandex and have them look like demigods instead of circus buffoons is in full evidence. I can't think of anyone who's ever made spandex look good except Christopher Reeve when he wore it and Alex Ross when he paints it.
And these are definitely the visions of the characters that're engraved on the public consciousness. The Golden Age superheroes are far too naive from a modern perspective. The Bronze and Modern Age interpretations tend to be more psychologically sophisticated than the Silver Age, but most of them also have enough baggage by that point in their development that they don't seem quite "clean" anymore (I think this is part of the reason for the increasing popularity of Elseworlds stories, and abandoning large chunks of old continuity). The Silver Age interpretations, dusted off and bought forward in time a little, seem ideal for telling the sort of epic that JUSTICE is -- and Alex gets that exactly right.
The most heavy-hitting villains of the DCU rarely team up en masse, and for good reason -- as Alex Ross has himself indicated in an interview regarding JUSTICE, if criminals cooperated efficiently with others, they probably wouldn't be criminals. Alex and Jim have employed the idea of mind control to bring their villains together. While not a subtle solution, it does the job, and seems plausible within the context of the story.
All this is by way of giving us an enormous Silver Age DC superheroes vs. super villains clash such as KINGDOM COME couldn't quite deliver with its DC vs. "Image" cast. The "superwar" notion is, I suspect, the thing people remember best about the late 70's Super Friends -- simplistic plots aside, we'd occasionally get to see half a dozen major villains try to pound the JLA all at once.
And Ross gets this note-perfect. Everybody is in character. We have a little taste of what makes each hero a hero and each villain a villain, and that alone is no mean feat with only 450 or 500 pages divided among such a huge cast. The villains have plans wrapped in plans; Batman has plans wrapped in plans; when everything starts to come down it all unravels just the way the reader would hope to see.
The ending of JUSTICE, though, suffers from some serious defects -- which is a great shame, because this story is otherwise perfect. It could have been the next KINGDOM COME, but instead of KINGDOM COME's solid ending, JUSTICE falters in issues #11 and #12.
The biggest flaw is the completely unfulfilling resolution of one of the story's initial dilemmas. In the beginning, practically each major super villain in the DCU learns the secret identity and personal information of every major super hero in the DCU. I assumed right off the bat this would ultimately make JUSTICE an Elseworlds story, but Alex and Jim do try for a reset at the end to return everything to normal. Well...that's a difficult if not impossible situation to handle realistically, and if Alex and Jim had found a way my hat would be off to them. Instead, Green Lantern uses a power ring to selectively erase the memories of all the super villains.
The second thing that seems poorly thought out is that in the end, when everything goes to hell, the GL Corps appears in order to lend the necessary muscle to contain the situation. Sinestro removed Hal Jordan from the story for most of the middle, but Hal was back in play for quite a while before summoning the Corps at -- it is indicated -- the last moment.
With the stakes as high as they obviously were in this story, why would Hal not have called for that kind of help as soon as he came back into the story line? No explanation is offered.
The third highly questionable point at the story's conclusion involves comic book physics. I can accept that people fly in comics. I can accept that solar radiation of a particular frequency somehow causes Kryptonians to manifest laser vision. This is superhero comics, those are the rules.
In the ending, Superman and a normal-stamina human teleport into Earth orbit. The human, obviously, begins to suffocate (there's also the issue of freezing temperatures, fluids boiling in a vacuum, etc., which JUSTICE doesn't address, but I could let that go). Superman needs to get her back into Earth atmosphere quickly.
He wraps her in his cape and dives into the atmosphere with all the pyrotechnics you'd expect.
I can accept that Superman's cape is indestructible (at least, in the Silver Age it was), and that might help to prevent direct friction burn to the human character. But is it also The Perfect Insulator? First I've heard of that -- seems to me she would've been cooked like a microwave burrito wrapped in its tortilla.
The above could all be defended with the argument that JUSTICE is a Silver Age tribute -- but in order for me to accept that, issues #1-10 would've had to ignore modern scientific principles (and common sense) in the same way parts of issues #11 and #12 did. They did not.
In conclusion, JUSTICE is a great series that deserves a place on your bookshelf. But on the shelf below, not next to, MARVELS, EARTH X, and KINGDOM COME. Its only downfall is a series of absurdities at the very end, but they're absurdities that would shake even the most dedicated fanboy's suspension of disbelief. Nonetheless, the creators have done something really remarkable with JUSTICE, and it will repay your attention. (Over 450 pages of Alex Ross artwork isn't hard to look at, either.)
barking_frog is Edward Livingston-Blade, a former IT network administrator (and teacher) for a public school site in California, who decided to risk starvation and write comics instead. He should really stop doing these reviews and get back to The Man Who Wasn't There.
CRIMINAL VOL 2 #1
Writer: Ed Brubaker Penciler: Sean Phillips Publisher: Marvel Icon Reviewed by Humphrey LeeSecond verse, same as the first.
CRIMINAL is back, and it has put on a little weight. The little crime book that could, CRIMINAL has been the gold standard for crime fiction in comics since it sprang from the mind of Ed Brubaker, and with this brand spanking new #1 it's looking to be in as good a form as ever. For those not familiar with this comic, well, kill yourself. But the title and my lead-in this paragraph pretty much implies what it's all about. This book is all about stories from the underbelly; about the men and women who live in the seamier parts of life but with a lot more personal turmoil involved. It's very Noir, and very rich and dense Noir at that, which is something to be appreciated when it comes along and is as well executed as this book.
The story this time is that of a long-time friendship that has slowly rotted away. It's a relationship that started years ago, as they grew up under fathers that ran roughshod over whatever territory they could find until one of them (Sebastian) slowly converted from being Prince to becoming King while the other (Jake) started making his way more legitimately in the world of professional boxing. And, like always, there was a little drama involving a girl to go along with it. This story unfolds with pretty much perfect pacing. One of the reasons CRIMINAL has always been such an excellent read is that it showcases the talents of two men who really know their gifts. Brubaker's wordsmithing here is pristine. It's mostly very terse, very direct but occasionally playful. Almost like a boxer, while the analogy is in the air to be grabbed. Every little jab has its objective; even if it's not to cause major damage it's there to soften you up and put you in position for the knockout punch. And there are tons of KOs when it comes to the kind of turmoil and twists and turns unloaded upon you in a given issue of the book, especially now with the expanded content of the book.
And just like Brubaker's words are the fists a flying, Sean Phillips' art is definitely the fancy footwork. The visual pacing is just astounding in how it's presented. I've said it once, I'll say it a thousand times: Phillips is a man who knows how to use a panel. What really works for him is when he's using his "slivers". Whereas most art is held back to somewhere around 5 or 6 panels a page tops, Phillips will just use these constant stream of half (or so) panels to either bounce back and forth between talking heads or to give that extra bit of motion to the story. Such a simple concept, but yet something that enhances the reading so much, and Phillips is a master at it. Combined with the kind of atmosphere his detailed yet slightly "dirty" lines can convey, it's just such the perfect compliment to the way the story needs to unfold.
CRIMINAL might not exactly be exploring new depths of its genre with its stories at their most base, but the way Brubaker and Phillips bring the characters to life is a sight to behold. From a pure execution standpoint, this might damn well be the best comic on the stands. This is going to go down as one of the best comics of the decade all said and done, and now here you have a second chance to jump on the bandwagon before it really gets a going. Seriously, don't be that guy that misses everything cool and dies alone and angry (thank you, Patton Oswalt). This book should be a top priority on every pull list.
Humphrey Lee is a long time AICN reviewer and also a certified drunk whose claim to fame is making it up four steps of the twelve step program before vomiting on steps five and six and then falling asleep on steps one through three. Also, chances are, he's banged your mom (depending on the relative hotness of said parental figure) and is probably the father of one of your younger siblings.
THUNDERBOLTS – INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT
Writer: Christos Gage Artist: Ben Oliver Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoThis is the third in a series of T-BOLTS one-shots. The first featured Penance and Bullseye (both relatively shallow characters – one loves giving pain and the other loves getting it), the second had Songbird and Moonstone (two fantastic characters.) Both were good reads, inconsequential in the greater scheme, but still, they did exactly what they were supposed to do: give us a one-shot that highlighted the strengths of the characters with minimal need for continuity awareness.
This third book featured the two foreign nationals, Radioactive Man (Dr. Chen Lu) and the new Swordsman (the von Strucker whelp.) It also featured some excellent pencils and gave a more subtle crafting of someone who is fast becoming a favorite character of mine, the aforementioned Dr. Lu.
Who would have guessed ten years ago that such rich paydirt could be found by mining the depths of the Marvel bedrock? More and more, it’s the secondary characters that are of primary interest. Gage doesn’t dig quite as deeply as Ellis, but that may be more due to nature and length of the one-shot format. Given a sufficiently long run, I think he could bring the heat.
In any case, Strucker and Lu take center stage in a nod to STRIKEFORCE:MORITURI, courtesy of Arnim Zola. A passing reference is made to the much-missed Jolt, but other than that, the book stays on focus. Osborn scores some incidental points playing psychological games with Lu, games made all the more hurtful by the fact that they are not really games. Nothing hurts so much as the truth. I feel for Lu.
Swordsman, however, still isn’t cutting it for me. Yes, some sort of subplot was actually advanced here, but I still feel like I know nothing about what really motivates him, other than his creepy implied physical relationship with his dead sister. Also the fact that he flayed her, that’s kinda cold. Maybe a few other things.
You know, good characters are either loved or hated, but he leaves me somewhere between “meh” and “ick.” Am I supposed to empathize with a character who wants to bring his sister back to life just so he can “do” her? This is the same problem I have with THE ULTIMATES version of Quicksilver, actually, regarding his sister Wanda. What is it with Marvel and incest lately? Away team, set phasers on “Ewwww!”
But the story doesn’t go there, thankfully. Overall, this was a good way for a newbie to discover the ‘Bolts, and Oliver did a good job on the art. It harkened back to the Bagley days, which may not really serve the “grit factor” that Ellis has tried to imbue to this title, but still, it served the story. And that is the priority.
When this was announced, it occurred to me that the only characters not being high-lighted were Venom and Osborn. As I write this, I notice they’re getting their own one-shot in May, also written by Gage. I hope Venom isn’t reduced to simple Tourettes-style dialogue, you know, Venom at the dinner table: “Please pass the salt and LET ME RIP OFF YOUR ARM AND BEAT YOU WITH IT, ARGGHH!!! Oh, sorry, excuse me, I seem to WANT TO EAT YOUR EYEBALLS, ARGGHH!!” Et cetera. He almost went there this issue, but it wasn’t his book.
Barring that, I’ll check out the next/last issue, and let’s see where the stories go from there. More Lu. More Songbird. More Moonstone. And, of course, more cowbell.