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AICN COMICS REVIEWS DAREDEVIL! TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES! FLASH GORDON! TWISTED DARK! UNCHARTED! & MORE! Plus another AICN COMICS PODCAST!

Issue #37 Release Date: 11/30/11 Vol.#10
The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Advance Review: AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #2
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION Vol. 1
UNCHARTED #1
FLASH GORDON: ZEITGEIST #1
DAREDEVIL #8
TWISTED DARK Vol.2
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1
FANTASTIC FOUR JOHN BYRNE OMNIBUS Vol.1
HAWK & DOVE #4
Indie Jones presents…
AICN COMICS PODCAST!


AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #2

Writer: Zeb Wells
Art: Joe Madureira
Colors: Ferran Daniel
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Johnny Destructo


I apologize for my previous review this week, but like ole' Grand-mammy Destructo sez: "If you have nothing nice to say about a particular comic book write a snarky one-liner and be done with it." Actually, her saying was more about inferior races and the one-liner was replaced with a lead pipe, but you get my meaning. Seriously though, even the ads in this book are better than what took place over in HAWK & DOVE #4. I say that without even a hint of attitude. There is a Yaris 2-page ad in this issue that literally made me let out a girlfriend-startling "HA!" That's how entertaining this book is.

When last we saw Spidey and Red Hulk, they were being glomped upon by a giant subterranean worm. How they get out isn't necessarily funny by itself, as we'll all seen it before in comics, but I was impressed with its presentation. And I think that is just one example of why I like this book. Even if we know what the joke is going to be from the set-up, Wells does his best to present it in a new way.

Not that humor is the only thing this book has to offer. I was hemming and hawing the other day about the lack of differences to me (the uninitiated Red Hulk reader) between Rulk and the Original Flavor Hulk. In certain books, if you told me there was a simple coloring error, and Red Hulk was actually supposed to be Green Hulk, I would believe you. But here, Zeb recognizes his years, if not decades, of service in the military and has Spidey deal with him as such (also, does Red Hulk ever change back? I don't think I've seen Thunderbolt WITH his mustache lately. Was his change permanent?)

Besides the writing, I absolutely have to mention the art in this series. I didn't really know that I was missing Joe Mad! until he returned with this book. His work has the right mixture of expressive cartoonism and detail to bring this story to life and make it just as much fun to look at as it is to read. Props also have to be awarded to Ferran Daniel for the colors on this book. It's a breath of vibrant air after the hue debacle that was ULTIMATES 3. Also, I'm not sure who is responsible for this, but making the word bubbles of the yellow C.H.U.D.S. look like engraved stone? Brilliant.

This book is so much fun that even though it's just started, I'm sad that it will some day have to end. Check it out if you haven't already.

When not hosting the Poptards Podcast at www.poptardsgo.com, fist-bumping his own nethers, & discussing movies, comics and other flimflam here, JD is graphically designing/illustrating/inking for a living, hanging with the @$$holes and Booking his Face off over here. Follow his twitter @poptardsgo. His talkback name is PopTard_JD. He is also now co-hosting another Comic Book discussion show on Party934.com alongside Bohdi Zen. They discuss comics and play music, check it out live every Saturday from 4-5pm.


TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOLUME ONE

Writer and Illustrator: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: superhero


I don’t think it’d be much of a stretch to say that almost every cartoonist out there with an independent property would love one of their ideas to achieve just a bit of the success that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had. Just imagine it: you self-publish a little gag of a comic book that’s a spoof of some of your favorite tropes in superhero comics at the time and you see it explode within a number of years to possibly one of the largest kid franchises in history. Imagine if you had created something that was basically a small pamphlet run of comics that wasn’t expected to do much business but it detonated into something that ended up making you millions of dollars and was literally everywhere at one point and time. Every comic creator would love to have their creation skyrocket into the stratosphere the way the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did. Hell, one of those co-creators even married a statuesque pin-up model at one point. Let’s face it, the creators of the TMNT have basically lived the dream of any teenaged boy who ever picked up a pencil and wanted to create their own superhero.

Truth to tell, though, I’d never really actually read a TMNT comic book. I was never really a fan. I never watched the cartoon shows. Never owned a t-shirt. I had gone and seen the first movie in the theater when it came out but that was more out of curiosity than anything else. I think that when the turtles’ mega-popularity hit I might have been a bit too old for it, especially since once they did achieve fame the “mainstream” version of the turtles was certainly aimed at younger boys than the audience their original comics were intended for.

But I’d always been curious and I have a co-worker (who wasn’t a comic geek) who used to love them when he was a kid. I’d always wanted to find out what the big deal was. I’d always heard that the early issues were what a comic fan like myself might be interested in so when IDW announced that they were releasing the early issues of TMNT in hardcover ultimate editions I figured I’d pre-order one. What the hell, if it sucked I could always just re-sell it on E-Bay, right?

When the book arrived and I pulled it out of the box I immediately thought ”Uh oh…maybe this isn’t for me.” The art seemed crude and rushed. Nothing seemed really sophisticated about the book at first glance except for the production value of the collection. I wasn’t expecting much and figured I might not make it past the first couple of issues. Boy, was I wrong.

When I actually sat down to read the thing I was not able to put it down. The art is crude but there’s something about the story itself that just sucked me in. It also helped that despite the somewhat rough drawing style that Eastman and Laird are geniuses at pacing their stories. The panel progression is smooth and all of the action sequences really, really flow. From the first page I was completely hooked. I could see why these early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were such a hit when they were originally published.

It would be easy to say that I loved this book mostly because of what it’s riffing on. The first issue of the book is obviously a spoof/homage of Frank Miller’s work on DAREDEVIL all those bygone years ago. As a matter of fact, there’s a bunch of neat little call outs to the 80s Marvel Universe throughout the first couple of issues. But as the book goes along it finds its own identity and changes from being a parody of ‘80’s superheroes to becoming a really unique and enjoyable action tale of its own. Yeah, the idea of radioactive ninja turtles fighting crime is ridiculous--but if you really think about it, so is the idea of a millionaire playboy dressing up as a bat to do the same thing. Okay, okay…the TMNT premise is sillier, but in Eastman and Laird’s hands TMNT goes beyond the goofiness of its initial premise and becomes something very much worth reading. TMNT is a fun action comic filled with heart and fun characters. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but isn’t ultimately stupid either. It strides the line in between and does it deftly and with expertise. I actually cannot believe how much I enjoyed reading these stories.

Beyond the collected issues themselves you get notes for every chapter by Eastman and Laird. These production notes aren’t necessarily the most extensive but they do shed a bit of light on where the creator’s heads were as they were fleshing out the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For me this was interesting as someone who’s interested in the comic book creation process, but for a TMNT fan these notes might be somewhat more valuable.

In the end I was more than happy with my somewhat impulse purchase of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION VOLUME ONE. I’ll be checking out the next edition for sure. IDW did a decent job of pulling this book together and it’s a collection that should please many old school fans and possibly pull new ones in…if they can get past the hefty cover price.

Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com and check out his blog at www.parttimefanboy.com. You can check also out his webcomics at www.babybadass.com and thediplomatics.com, which is currently in development.


UNCHARTED #1

Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Sergio Sandoval
Publisher: DC Comics
Guest Reviewer: The Dean


The UNCHARTED comic has a lot of creative ground already covered by its video game predecessors, leaving writer Joshua Williamson (SUPERMAN/BATMAN, XENOHOLIC) fairly shackled in his efforts to explore and expand on the adventures of Nathan Drake. We’ve already got three full, critically acclaimed video game adventures from Naughty Dog, which bring to the table distinctive, benchmark-setting voice acting, breathtaking scenery and action sequences, with a film-worthy original score to top it all off. So does Williamson translate all of this into a two-dimensional medium while providing a fresh Drake and pals (a rejected game title, I assume) adventure to boot? Well, not quite, or at least not yet, as the debut issue felt a bit claustrophobic for an UNCHARTED title, with a too-familiar plot that suggests whatever we’re about to be told, we’ve already heard before.

Set between the events of Uncharted 1 and 2, the story starts with Drake and Flynn narrowly escaping a firefight, both miraculously unharmed thanks to Drake’s uncanny ingenuity, with spoils that include a journal hinting at a much larger mystery and journey ahead. Sounds like UNCHARTED, right? For fans of the series, there’s no doubt that these are the characters you love, getting into the trouble that endears you to them. Drake, Flynn, and Sully are Drake, Flynn, and Sully, complete with one-liners and playful back and forth banter that you’d expect between old friends. One significant enough detraction regarding the dialogue is the odd overuse of ellipses: I can’t tell if Drake is out of breath, has a case of hiccups, or thinks it’s cool to talk like Swamp Thing. I’d say it’s a minor detail, but it took me out of the story long enough to affect the experience. That said, Williamson seems to have a good grasp of these characters, and that’s more than half the battle in bringing this series to the printed page.

The other major task, of course, is weaving a complex historical mystery that successfully balances gravitas and all out fantasy, enough to both lend credence to the inevitable metaphysical/conspiracy twist and keep the story from reading like a textbook history. Williamson looks to have found an interesting enough historical footing in his Russian Amber Room mystery, which he then marries to Richard Byrd’s North Pole expedition. He adds to this the “so crazy it must be real” notion that Byrd discovers a secret passage to the center of the Earth while he’s up there, and now we’ve got a story with some wild potential in the key of Francis Drake! Where this story suffers is that we’ve seen its development a few times already. Aside from swapping names and places, there’s nothing in this issue that suggest it won’t be following the same path the popular games already have. It’s a winning formula, granted, but I don’t have the awesome game play experience to break it up. With testing the waters of a new medium, I’m hoping some chances are taken with the storytelling that make up for the thrilling shootouts and wall-scaling adventuring I’m missing out on.

Like Williamson, artist Sergio Sandoval’s recreated the UNCHARTED cast faithfully, bringing them the page without any unnecessary comic book exaggeration. What’s lacking, unfortunately, is a sense of scale. Uncharted has some of the most impressive and expansive level designs in the industry, and this first issue has a few too many panels that lock its illusive stuntman of a hero in. I have no doubt we’ll get the occasional one or two page splash that will give Sandoval a chance to shine, especially given the Richard Byrd quote chosen to open the story, but without the technical limitations of video games, I was hoping for the impressive “levels” or detailed environments that only pencil and imagination can provide. Somewhat understandable given Williamson’s talkative script, but with the less than favorable reputation video game to comic translations have, many may have given this team one issue to prove they can capture the overall feel of the game, and this is a notable omission.

UNCHARTED fans should still be happy, though, as they have a team in place that seems to have a strong grasp of the UNCHARTED cast. Though Williamson assumes familiarity with these characters from the start, with a more fresh approach to the solid mystery Williamson’s building, I don’t think I would have any problem recommending the series to comic fans unfamiliar with the game itself. But for now, until things feel a little less predictable, and Sandoval gets a chance to really open Nathan Drake’s world, this one’s best left to the established fan.

Oh, and if you haven’t gotten it already, please take the time to seek out the Adam Hughes variant cover! The Hughes variant has that Drew Struzan quality which just makes everything more magical somehow.


FLASH GORDON: ZEITGEIST #1

Plot and Script: Eric Trautmann
Plot and Art Direction: Alex Ross
Art: Daniel Indro
Colors: Slamet Mujiono
Published by: Dynamite Entertainment
Reviewed by: BottleImp


Anyone who’s followed Alex Ross’ career over the years will have undoubtedly noticed that the man has a serious hard-on for the cheesetastic 1980 “Flash Gordon” film. Ross based his version of Doctor Doom on the movie’s similarly masked and hooded General Klytus. In KINGDOM COME the character of Ibn al Xu'ffasch (the spawn of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul) was modeled after Flash himself, Sam J. Jones. And for those who may have missed these subtle clues, Ross provided the cover art for the film’s dvd re-release a few years ago, and is even interviewed for one of the disc’s special features. So when I saw that Ross was spearheading a new comic book version of the character, I naturally assumed that he would be continuing Flash’s adventures as depicted by the movie, complete with the rockin’ Queen soundtrack (yes, I freely admit it—“Flash Gordon” is one of my favorite films as well). But the Flash on the Ross-painted cover looked more like one of James Bama’s old Doc Savage covers than the bleached and blow-dried Sam Jones, and what the heck is Hitler doing there?

As it turns out, Ross (along with collaborators Trautmann, Indro and Mujiono) is bringing Flash Gordon back to his roots by setting this new series during the time of the original Alex Raymond comic strip’s publication—though the story does start off with a nod to the aforementioned movie, as Ming the Merciless intones those classic words, “Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?” But then ZEITGEIST leaves the world of Timothy Dalton and Max Von Sydow and whisks us to the year 1934, when the world is on the brink of war and strange atmospheric disturbances are being felt throughout the planet. Flash Gordon here is as his creator envisioned him: a Yale graduate and world-champion polo player. Dale Arden has been liberated somewhat from her “damsel in distress” role in her new role as a cartographer for the U.S. State Department. Hans Zarkov remains the borderline-mad scientist who launches the three of them into space to combat the strange occurrences—though this too has been tweaked slightly to suggest travel between alternate dimensions, rather than the now-quaint notion of quickly hopping to another planetary system beyond our own solar system. In many ways, ZEITGEIST is simply following the plots of the newspaper strips created roughly eighty years ago.

The twist that gives this new series some intriguing promise is that as Flash and Co. are hurtling towards Mongo, rebels against Ming’s tyranny have landed on Earth in order to put a stop to a certain human who is acting as Ming’s proxy, enabling the ruler of Mongo to spread his dominion over our world. Who is this human who has been tasked with subjugating the world under an oppressor’s thumb? Well, if you can’t guess from the cover, then I’m not even going to bother telling you. It’s a neat twist that adds a broader scope of danger and consequences to what was originally the epitome of male escapist fantasy. I have no doubt that this version of Flash Gordon will still be fighting monsters with ray guns and cutlasses and banging alien princesses, but at least the adolescent serial adventures will be played against a slightly more cerebral backdrop.

The only reservation I have about this series—and it’s one that I’ve had about almost all of Alex Ross’ Dynamite work—is the artwork. As with previous titles like PROJECT: SUPERPOWERS, the creative team here is doing its best to try to emulate the look of Ross’ painted covers in coloring the interior artwork. In my opinion, this is a very difficult look to pull off successfully. It really requires the perfect marriage of a penciler who renders realistically enough to sell the believability of the modeled colors while not OVER-rendering and a colorist with the painting experience to be able to believably model three-dimensional objects while still having enough restraint to not OVER-model. In ZEITGEIST’s case, the marriage just isn’t quite there. Daniel Indro’s penciled shading is at times too rough and scratchy, and there’s one panel showing Zarkov’s rocketship that is drawn with such wonky, sketchy ellipses that it makes we wish that Ross had brought an inker into the mix to refine the drawing throughout the book. Slamet Mujiono’s colors are competently straddling that line between traditional comic coloring and paints, but again, there just isn’t the sense of a unified design when the colors are mixed with the pencils. In some cases (especially in the coloring of characters’ faces) the light and shade of the coloring actually seems at odds with the penciled shading. The real shame is that the supplemental pages at the end of this issue showing some of Ross’ concept sketches are a far more appealing blend of line drawing and color—maybe the answer to this problem is that if Alex Ross wants his comic to look like his paintings, then Alex Ross needs to man up and do some interior art again.

My issues with the artwork aside, I’m sure I’ll be picking up the next issue to see how this series will progress. And if ZEITGEIST ends up disappointing, I’ll just plug my DVDinto the player and sing along… “FLASH! Ah-AHHH! He’ll save every one of us!”

What? It’s a good movie. Shut up.

When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.


DAREDEVIL #6

Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Marcos Martin
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: KletusCasady


“…that makes me the most dangerous man alive.”

After I decided to do this review, I looked back on my past reviews and realized I had done quite a few DAREDEVIL-related reviews. I mentioned that to Lady Kletus and she said, “Well, maybe you really like DAREDEVIL.” And you know what, I DO really like DAREDEVIL. He’s definitely not in my top 5 but he’s up there. Mark Waid’s DAREDEVIL pretty much showcases everything I like about my red-horned buddy. Let’s discuss.

DAREDEVIL’S has radar sense is cool as hell and the way it’s translated to page, especially in this series, is always awesome. I would even go as far to say that this DD series possibly has the best illustration of his powers I’ve ever seen (calm down, I said possibly). Both Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin do a great job of displaying these powers, and this issue is no different. The scene where DD is getting beat down by Bruiser and he’s trying to find his weak spot is a perfect example of this team using familiar powers in a unique way. DD and how his powers are shown is very similar to the FLASH (the art last ish was awesome) in that the illustrations of their powers can be minimal or as wild or intricate as the artists imagination allows. Both artists on this series seemed to be doing their damnedest to show exactly how DD’s powers work and seem eager to do it in a unique way every damn issue. I think Marcos Martin was grown in a tube like SUPERBOY and genetically engineered to draw comics…he’s like M.O.D.O.P.*. He's that fricken good—seriously, even if you don’t like the stories (can’t see why you wouldn’t) the art alone is worth $3. Both artists knock it out of the park every damn issue…let me calm down…whew…needless to say, the art in this comic is fucking great!

This comic has captured the fun that I miss from reading comics when I was younger--not that the comics were better then or anything like that, it’s just I had a childish glee while reading this issue, smiling, constantly mumbling ‘cool’ under my breath. Not to mention, I was hanging on the edge of my seat as to how DD was going to get out of each predicament. Of course I knew he would, but the “how” I wasn’t able to predict and I love that. I think one of the worst things a comic book can be is predictable and this issue was far from it. If anyone says they knew how DD was going to get past the Hydra, A.I.M. and all the other evil agent operatives at the end of this book, I’d call them a darn liar. It was completely off the wall, daring, and made complete sense in regards to DD’s alter ego as a lawyer. Everything about this issue is great: what the evil agents were trying to acquire, the fight with Bruiser, the beginning of the issue, the last few words of the comic with Matt Murdock smiling (quoted at the beginning of this review). The difference between this iteration of Daredevil and the ones of the past few years is that this DD is a lot more fun and revels in the danger that his exploits attract. He loves the swashbuckling lifestyle, the women, the threats, the triumphs. Before, with all that had happened to him, he was beat down and exhausted by that lifestyle…now he’s loving every minute of it.

This is one of the BEST comics Marvel is producing right now, hands down. The stories are tight, the art is awesome and I find myself salivating for each issue. DAMN I wish this team was also doing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with the same feeling as this comic. Waid, Rivera & Martin are kicking ass with this series…ya’ll need to get with it! This comic is everything I like about DAREDEVIL and a bag of Masterpiece chips!

*Mechanical Organism Designed Only for Penciling (comics)


TWISTED DARK Vol. 2

Writer: Neil Gibson
Artist: Lots and lots
Publisher: Self Published
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


M. Knight Shamalamadingdong’s greatest success, THE SIXTH SENSE, was also his greatest failure for one simple reason – the twist. Not being one to think too much when imbibing entertainment, I had no idea Bruce Willis was dead during the whole thing. Thanks to my lack of cerebral firing, I was just as flabbergasted as ol’ Bruce when the surprise of his demise was revealed. Then came Sir Sham’s subsequent movies, and each time though the surprise was diminished: one, I was looking for it – two, the surprise just wasn’t as good.

Neil Gibson makes no such mistakes. TWISTED DARK is exactly what the name implies; it is a series of dark (read that as very dark) vignettes that pull the rug out from under you with every last page “twist.”

Now, let’s look at the success of THE SIXTH SENSE. Sure, people were surprised, but it wasn’t the surprise in and of itself that made the reveal feel like a punch to the gut. The surprise resonated because we cared about the characters: we were drawn in by Willis’ marriage falling apart, and we saw the Haley Joel bullied and ostracized, which made us care more about him than just a divining rod for the dead.

The thing I noticed and applauded Gibson for when I read TWISTED DARK Volume 1 a few months ago, and volume 2 just this week, was that Gibson makes you first and foremost care about the characters. The twists are fun and surprising, but if you don’t care about the characters, twists are a parlor trick, not a freefall of emotional despair.

It’s tough as calcified testicles to make an audience care about a character. Many writers spend countless pages providing back-story for this reason. Look at THE SIXTH SENSE; it took a full two hours for me to care whether Bruce was alive or dead. When he pseudo-died (read as really) in the beginning of the movie, I really didn’t care – his character meant nothing to me so his death meant nothing. By the end, though, I was hooked and ready to cry. Gibson brings this same emotional resonance in a 10th of the pages and does it ten times over with each new vignette in TWISTED DARK.

Gibson does this in part by relying on tropes, but make no mistake, these are merely to save on page space; at no time does a story ever feel derivative. Now, here’s where I need to be careful: when I reviewed TD1 I gave away the farm, complete story descriptions as well as a bucket load of spoilers by giving away the endings. My bad, and as I write this review I realize my propensity for spoiling was unnecessary. A great example of this point is a vignette where two silver hairs discuss man’s propensity for chasing young tail. Together the men discuss evolution still being our dominant force for picking a mate versus the much newer societal veneer of age appropriateness. The “twist” at the end is good, and slightly funny, but that’s just icing. The meat and potatoes were found in the topic the two men discuss and the wit and insight with which they deliver the information.

Speaking of humor, Gibson warned me with TD2 he tried to add more humor and scale back on the dark. Personally, I don’t see it. Even when the end did make me laugh it’s only because my soul is an abyss of despair that gets off on schadenfreude. The vignettes with humor are funny in the same sense as my Grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease. I laugh when she confuses me with my father, but the laugh is a hollow solace for the woman she once was. The stories in TWISTED DARK as they traverse such topics as the price of fame, the power of death over art and unrequited love with the twist of infanticide, will make you laugh at times, but each time you realize you are laughing as an escape mechanism from despair.

Gibson is putting together a TWILIGHT ZONE for the new millennium with his TWISTED DARK anthologies. They are a reflection of our societal woes; they represent the highest art standards with a new and appropriate artist on each piece. TWISTED DARK will make you think and at the same time lament that each joy and ray of light in the world is merely the precursor for the TWISTED DARK to come.

Optimous has successfully blackmailed fellow @$$Hole BottleImp into being his artist on Average Joe. Look for Imp's forced labor on Optimous brain child in mid-2012 from COM.X. Friend Optimous on FaceBook to get Average Joe updates and because ceiling cat says it's the right thing to do.


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1 (of 6)

Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Wes Craig
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: BottleImp


Y’know, I was really hoping that the fact that this title was on hiatus while the rest of the DC Universe was sort-of rebooting would mean that a lot of time and energy was being put into making the return of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS something special and exciting, and that the crappy, boring, dragged-out manner in which the last story arc was told would be a thing of the past.

No such luck.

Nick Spencer still doesn’t seem to know who his audience is for this incarnation of the James Bond-era super-spies—or he just isn’t interested in making the book accessible to new readers. Events from his first truncated run on the series earlier this year are referenced without ever being explained. Hell, I read all those issues and I’m still not 100% sure what was supposed to have gone on between the new Menthor and his ties to the evil Spider organization; any casual reader who missed out on those comics will be even more in the dark. The actual T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents themselves are barely sketched-out again; any important information regarding their powers and abilities (let alone their personalities) can only be known if the reader bought the previous series. Newbies,good luck figuring out what the hell is going on here. Instead of this new #1 issue being an introduction to these characters and their world, Spencer has opted to plunk the reader down in the middle of a head-scratcher of a plot whose references will possibly have meaning only to the most die-hard fans of the original series—a series that may command a cult status amongst its followers, but whose specifics remain largely unknown to the general comics-reading public.

I had hoped that the addition of artist Wes Craig to the series would bolster the quality and make up for the shortcomings in the writing department. Craig’s work first popped off the page to me in DC’s TANGENT: SUPERMAN’S REIGN maxiseries, then later within the pages of Marvel’s late and lamented GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. I loved his flair for creating dynamic compositions and his simplified, stylized figure designs. I had thought that Craig’s gift for drawing high-octane action would inject a much-needed sense of vitality into this next chapter in the new AGENTS story.

But the problem with being great at drawing action is that you need to have the action to draw. The majority of this issue is talky-talky-talky between two plainclothes Agents, with actual THINGS HAPPENING relegated to a scant few pages. Craig’s abilities…I won’t say that they’re being wasted here, but they definitely are not being utilized to their full potential. It’s the same problem that plagued the last few issues of the previous run of the series: Spencer just can’t get it through his head that comics are a visual medium, and has not yet embraced the mantra of “show, don’t tell.”

With a deliberately obtuse plot, pages and pages of exposition that somehow does nothing in terms of explaining said plot, and characterization that is as difficult to distinguish as Noman in his invisibility cloak, it’s the readers who are the ones in danger of being killed by these Agents’ powers… the powers of inducing extreeeeme booooooooredom.


FANSTATSIC FOUR JOHN BYRNE OMNIBUS VOL. 1

Writers: Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, etc.
Penciller (and inked in some cases): John Byrne
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: superhero


It may seem odd to modern day comic fans that John Byrne was once king of the comic industry. That there was a time when, if John Byrne was doing a project, comic fans would scoop that project up with relatively no questions asked. Yes, there was a time when John Byrne was a cherished member of the comic book community. There was a time when Byrne’s name might have been spoken with respect or even reverence.

It may also seem odd to some younger modern day comic fans that there was a time when you could buy a comic and get a whole, complete, and satisfying story. There was a time when you didn’t have to buy a bajillion crossover issues just to understand one ongoing story arc. There was a time when superheroes were fun adventurers who had quirks, to be sure, but didn’t have to be complete douchebags to seem “relevant”. There was a time when the deluge of media wasn’t an excuse for heroes to wallow in the lowest common denominator aspects of their own personalities. When heroes didn’t have to have candy cane personalities but they could still star in fun and outlandish adventures without being accused of being squeaky clean.

This FANTASTIC FOUR JOHN BYRNE OMNIBUS is a beautifully reproduced and meticulously collected journey back to that time. This was a time in Byrne’s career when he was firing on all thrusters and you could practically feel his enjoyment as an artist just riffing at the top of his game. These Fantastic Four stories are some of the books that got me into comics and it’s easy to see why. The characters are multi-layered and relatable and John Byrne’s artwork stretched the boundaries of the Marvel house style without being alienating to the eye. This, to me, is some of Byrne’s best work and quite possibly some of the most important comic work of the Marvel Bronze/Modern age. A lot of people may argue that people like Frank Miller and Alan Moore dragged comics towards adulthood but I would be the first one to say that they did that while sacrificing the heart of all other comics at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN, but I feel very safe in arguing that while Miller and Moore were gleefully sinking superheroes to their depths John Byrne was doing something equally important: telling great superhero stories that both adults and kids could relate to while expanding the horizon of what you could do with characters in tights without making them seem like complete aberrant assholes.

Whoever is responsible at Marvel for getting this edition together really needs a big, BIG pat on the back from John Byrne fans. I was expecting to get a chunk of Byrne’s Fantastic Four spanning from when he began to write the title in issue # 232. What you get is so much more than that. It seems that in this Omnibus edition every little bit of work that John Byrne ever did on a Fantastic Four-related character is included. You get Byrne’s early Marvel Team Up issues when Spidey teamed up with the Human Torch. You get his early Marvel Two-In-One issue where the Thing goes back in time to try and cure himself of being the Thing. You get his early FF issues where he served as just a penciller (with Joe Sinnott inks and Marv Wolfman writing). You even get his Fantastic Four character drawing contributions to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe! This is a ton of stuff and as a first volume it was certainly overwhelming leafing through it. As I looked through the pages initially my smile just grew wider and wider…I honestly couldn’t believe how much great material was in this book that I hadn’t expected to see. This is a collection made for fans, to be sure, and you can tell that there was a great amount of care put into making sure it was as all inclusive as it could be. There’s so much of Byrne’s FF in here that I don’t know that they’ll have enough for a second volume of this size…although I hope to god that they include “The Last Galactus Story” as I think it’s one of the few Byrne Marvel things that I haven’t been able to find in print.

The only slight weakness here that I can see, and it’s very, very nitpicky, is the color/artwork reproduction. It’s a bit of an issue that I have with a lot of the Marvel Omnibus editions. It’s the fact that whoever is doing the art correction and color reproduction isn’t attempting to keep the retro feel of the original books. Obviously these are being reproduced on much nicer paper than they originally were and they are being colored on a computer rather than some poor colorist working with old inking dyes. But I feel that with these Marvel Omnibus books more care could be taken to maintain the halftone print quality of the original books. I’ve seen Titan Books and IDW Publishing do a terrific job of doing this sort of thing with their collections of classic comics and I wish this technique could have been applied with this book. But a lot of this, as I said, is a nitpick. The colors do look spectacular and I do think that it may have just been a matter of me getting used to the different quality of the reproduction. Once I actually sat with the book for a while and started reading it I actually did appreciate the new colors. It’s just a bit odd seeing these stories this way when for years I’ve been enjoying them on yellowing newsprint paper.

So, as a fan of Byrne’s early work I think that this book is an absolute must. As a fan of strong comic book stories I feel that this book offers more than its weight in gold. This is a, dare I say it, fantastic collection certain to please comic fans of every age. Imagine that! Mainstream comic book superhero stories that the whole family can enjoy! Someone just let me know when volume two is coming out because I will not hesitate to pre-order it as soon as I find out about its existence.


HAWK AND DOVE #4

Writer: Sterling Gates
Penciller: Rob Liefeld
Inkers: Adelso Corona/Rob Liefeld
Colors: Matt Yackey
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Johnny Destructo


With this latest installment by Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld, it is safe to say that four issues of this book now exist.


THE SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED #1
Black Hearted Press


Writer John Farman incorporates some of my favorite movie and mythical monsters of yesteryear in this introductory issue of THE SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED. Everyone from Count Orlock to Victor Frankenstein is present. The book reads a lot like a horrifying take on THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. Though Farman relies a lot on dialog in this issue, it makes for a few tense scenes as the monsters show their stripes to some pushy Nazi soldiers. I really liked the concept here. This kind of monster mash is a lot of fun--not only to see them let loose on victims in their own horrifying and unique ways, but how they interact with each other. Even FREAKS’ star Johnny Eck makes an appearance in this love letter to black and white terror. Recommended to fans of old school scary. The backup, written by Farman as well, is a fun new take on Jekyll & Hyde too. A lot of fun to be had in this issue. - Ambush Bug


UNSEEN SHADOWS: TALES OF THE FALLEN Vol.1
Unseen Shadows.com


Though I haven’t read the novel FALLEN HEROES by Barry Nugent which this comic book is based upon, this book is filled with a whole new universe full of objects of mystery, high flying adventure, monsters, espionage, Indiana Jones-caliber action, and a whole lot of fun characters. The book also oozes indie goodness, meaning the art is somewhat rough, but shows tons of potential. In the first segment, “Fragments of Fate”, artist Roy Huteson Stewart does a great job of conveying action with creative use of panel and movement. Though thick on inks, artist Rob Carey has a softness of line that reminds me a lot of Patrick Oliffe crossed with the splattery technique of a Jorge Zaffino, yet the colors sometimes distract in his segment called “Band of Butchers”. In “Wrath of God”, Steve Penfold has an unconventional AEON FLUX sort of skewed angled vibe going on in this tensely paced shoot-em-up. Conor Boyle’s “Operation Solomon” is filled with page upon page of subtle intensity with gorgeous hues and tones throughout. And the final tale, “Stolen” by Cormac Hughes, is told in simple black and white with breathtaking attention to line variation giving the panels, though colorless, depth and distinction I haven’t seen since Seth Fisher’s work. The stories are a lot of fun too, full of military and spy adventure. Again, if you’re looking for the cleanest art and most polished of stories, look elsewhere. But if you want to see that glimmer of superstardom from unknown artists who just might be taking the world by storm some time in the future, UNSEEN SHADOWS: TALES FROM THE FALLEN is a good place to look. - Ambush Bug


SOUVERAIN #1
Earthbound Comics


Collecting five short stories featuring the female vigilante Souverain, this issue is a great introduction to the character created by Ben Ferrari and written by Ferrari and Mike Luoma. Set in the conflict of the Middle East in Iraq, Souverain serves as a masked force for justice, operating by going AWOL from her military unit in order to fight crimes that happen on foreign soil. Part revenge fantasy/part bold superhero adventure, this is a character that one most likely wouldn’t see in a mainstream comic. Ben Ferrari writes and draws the first tale, a bit of an origin story for our heroine. Mike Luoma steps in to write two hard-biting, hot button-pressing prose tales. Think Frank Miller’s HOLY TERROR without all of that bat-shit annoying Frank Miller-ness and you’ll get the drift of this one. This book successfully mixes real world issues with superheroism, while remaining respectful to the men and women fighting overseas and pointing a finger at atrocities performed around the world. This is a fun book which empowers women while it entertains and inspires hope. - Ambush Bug


Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and has just released FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can pre-order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!








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AICN COMICS PODCAST #6

Ambush Bug here. The below hour-long conversation took place between myself, Matt Adler, Optimous Douche, and our host Johnny Destructo of PoptardsGo.com as we talked about BATMAN: ODYSSEY #1 V.2, FABLES #111, HERC #10, COMIC BOOK COMICS #6, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #1, DAREDEVIL #6, and other bits of general jack@$$$ery!


Looks for more of the Holes rambling about comics on Poptards in future AICN COMICS columns!


Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

Remember, if you have a comic book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.

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