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AICN COMICS REVIEWS: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN! HARBINGER! SWORD OF SORCERY! TYRANNY OF THE MUSE! & MORE!

The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Advance Review: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700
HARBINGER #7
AVENGERS #2
SWORD OF SORCERY #3
CAPTAIN AMERICA #2
Indie Jones presents TYRANNY OF THE MUSE #1
WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #22


Advance Review: In stores this week!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy


Goodbye...

This review will be spoiler free, which means it’s going to be very very very very vague. Slott has made it almost impossible to write a review for this issue without spoiling any of the actual events of the comic, which may be a little difficult. But let’s do this.

As the “final” issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (ha ha ha), Slott has a lot to do and not much time to do it in. He has to conclude what, to be honest, has been an interesting if maddening story line. He has to ensure that dedicated Spider-Man readers aren’t going to flock away from the title akin to what happened after “One More Day”, with what could be an even more extreme change in the status quo. He has to slip in just enough references and cameos that I believe every landmark issue in super hero comics is contractually forced to have, and he has to do all this in a succinct, readable manner. In some of those regards, Slott manages it with real skill and finesse, reinforcing my idea that Slott will be remembered as one of the best Spider-Man writers of all time. At others, he falters slightly. This is not a perfect comic, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is both creative and interesting enough to warrant a read through.

So, the basic pitch for this story line (if you haven’t been following it at all) is that Dr. Octopus’s final gambit to escape death is to switch bodies with Peter Parker, and it worked. No one knows that Peter is trapped within the dying body of Otto Octavius, and he has successfully taken control of Peter’s life. So, trapped in the decaying villain, Peter is forced to cross certain boundaries in a last desperate attempt to take his life back. The comic never really loses its frantic pace, as both Peter and Otto become more and more desperate with each page. The alternating perspectives are well done, showing both characters slowly becoming more and more like the other, while still remaining distinctly themselves; Otto is forced to play the superhero, but his cynicism and pragmatism come out during a short confrontation with The Scorpion. It’s a brutal scene that shocks and appalls the supporting cast (save Jonah, who, in maybe my personal favourite small moment in the issue, finally outwardly approves and supports Spider-Man just in time for it to not actually be Spider-Man. PARKER LUCK, EVERYBODY!), and further signifies just how fundamentally different the two men are.

Herein lies Slott’s greatest strength writing Spider-Man: he has a firm grasp on what makes the character tick, and what separates him from the other heroes of the Marvel universe, while also having a deft handle on the supporting cast. Well, except MJ. Slott, who has in the past proven to write a good MJ, doesn’t do much with her here. She’s the fawning love interest who accounts all struggles and unwarranted aggression on Peter’s part to “stress”. This isn’t the MJ Peter (or I) fell in love with. Here’s hoping she comes back strong in SUPERIOR.

The various cameos and references are well warranted and executed with class, never overdoing it. There’s a certain montage at the end that may be among the best work in Ramos’s career (which make up for some lackluster pages throughout this issue) that is beautiful to witness. The pair handle the transition to the new status quo well, if not with the same amount of craft as the more character-driven moments. There’s no real indicator about SUPERIOR, or how it will really work.

The two short stories that follow the main plot are brief and enjoyable, showcasing two enjoyable shorts into the past and possible future of Spider-Man. They’re brief and really fun, but they’re not really what this review is focused on.

Do I expect this direction to last? No. Do I think anyone expects this to last? No. This is super hero comics, and this is Spider-Man. I spotted three escape hatches in this issue alone, all ways for Peter to come crawling back from the edge and take back the title just in time for the next big anniversary issue. But it does present numerous new directions for the title to go, and, despite how unhappy I am with the current state of affairs for Peter, it could ultimately lead to Slott’s masterpiece on the title--an examination on why the spider is important, but it’s the man underneath who makes him a hero.

“Anyone can be Batman. That’s the point.” Not completely. That can inspire and drive people to do something more than themselves. But in the end, it doesn’t matter what mask someone hides behind or what name they call themselves. It’s the actions and choices of the person who define us, and Spider-Man is defined by the unlikely hero that is Peter Parker. So, I’m game. Let’s see what else you got.


HARBINGER #7

Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Barry Kitson
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Reviewer: Optimous Douche


I know there will eventually come a time when I no longer harken back to the Ghost of Valiant Past in my reviews. With the quality they keep churning out, they join the cast of indies who are anything but. Eventually Valiant will soar past its ancestral roots into new numbers, new stories, and a new mythology that will make the 1.0 world from so many years ago forgotten history.

For now, though, in these beginning stages, they are playing the game right – keep what was wonderful from the old universe while extracting the dated elements to reflect modern mores and sensibilities.
,br>Issue 7 follows its predecessors in not only darkening the HARBINGER mythos, but each mother-lovin’ character as well. I haven’t given this much adoration to a single series since ALL STAR SUPERMAN. Please don’t think they are the same book; they’re not. This is a series going for the long haul; epic is not the name of the game. However, it entertains me in the same sense it sits at the top of my read pile each week it comes out, I can always find words about it, and damn if it doesn’t surprise me. It is one of the most stark, dark and honest portrayals of the mutant comic mythos. It’s Valiant Now in the truest sense of the word Now; I will also give it Valiant Here, because it truly feels like I’m watching our world evolve. Now, after reviewing about three issues of this book I do have one gripe that I’ll get to in a minute.

This issue shows the true forming of a team for Pete Stancheck--his non-powered yet clearly the strongest of fortitude…let’s call her God Keeper…Kris, and the fat and floaty yet also endearingly innocent Zephyr. Now that they have completely uncovered the eeeevil plans of Toyo Harada and his fuel to rule the world by activating and employing every mutie on the planet, the true game of a powers land grab can begin--kind of like FAR AND AWAY minus the bad acting and Enya.

This week we meet Flamingo. In Valiant 1.0 this small town cutie tweaked young Optimous’ nether regions with her skyscraper bangs, Daisy Duke cut offs and small town slut ways. Valiant portrays the same naughty, but like every girl of promiscuity story these days we now learn the why, and for anyone who is not a sociopath it induces instant boner deflation. Dysart does a great job making the back-story of this stripper soon-to-be turned flamethrower natural and perfectly flowing with the story today. Everything shitty in her life, from her job to her current abusive beau, all stems from negligent and abusive daddy issues. And before some blowhard cries cliché from the parliament party of pain in the ass, go to a strip club sometime and actually talk to these girls. If your average isn’t 7 out of 10, then you probably also found the one where the same number have degrees instead of “currently looking into Sociology.”

Real, timely and full of great yuck nuggets, from Zephyr’s first experience in a house of dollar stuffing ill repute to Kris truly realizing her place as leader of this group since she controls the heart and thus the will of living God Peter – HARBINGER #7 basically just makes me excited for HARBINGER #8.

Oh, wait--I did say I have one gripe (and no, not the art--Kitson is grand and really kept this issue sexy, yet clean, and also impactful when sexy time for Flamingo was over). My gripe is with Harada. And again, I say this gripe because I come from the context of just rereading Jim Shooter’s SOLAR from Dark Horse a few years ago. Here’s the thing. I think Harada needs to be a little more sadistic, like Shooter’s portrayal. Taiwanese hooker punching bags is all I’m going to say. After sixty plus years of being a living God, you go where you can for your kumbayayas. Show us the human and thus inhuman side of Harada in an issue. Right, we’ve only seen the business half of the character mullet – bring forth the oh so wrong party in the back, please.

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.


AVENGERS #2

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Jerome Opena
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Mighty Mouth


And there came a day when the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were not enough…and on that day, a new line up of Avengers was assembled to rescue Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

I know, you’ve heard this all before, right? Wrong. If you have read AVENGERS #1 (and if you didn’t, you should) then you are already aware that The Avengers took a jaunt to Mars to face a threat unlike any other. This resulted in the team having their collective asses handed to them. Captain America was set free by these strange beings and returned to Earth to serve as a sort of warning. Cap, being Cap, sends out the call and a new team of Avengers is assembled. But what hopes do these new recruits stand against a trio that was capable of trashing the likes of Iron Man, Hulk and Thor?

Issue #2 offers more elucidation than conflict, and that’s a good thing because I have no freaking idea who these new god-like beings that trashed The Avengers are, so a little annotation is a welcome thing at this point. One of the things I am enjoying about this storyline so far is that it offers a new threat unlike anything The Avengers have faced before. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some classic villains--but it’s nice to see The Avengers deal with something a little diverse now and again.

Issue #2 offers the origin of the bizarre beings known as Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph. For now, let’s just say that these incredible individuals are born from the stuff of creation itself, and they have decided that the Earth is worthy of a second chance. The problem is in order to kick-start this brand new world, you guessed it, the old one must go bye-bye. The issue also has some flashback sequences of Steve Rogers and Tony Starks’ plan to increase the scope of The Avengers for situations just like this.

Generally, I really like the direction Hickman is taking with this book. It feels fresh and original without tearing down anything readers have come to know and love about The Avengers. Even though this issue lacks conflict in the corporeal sense, the storytelling and build up is structured with scrupulous care. In short, Hickman has no difficulty structuring a transfixing story without relying on cheap parlor tricks or lots of ka-pow & wham moments. The buildup is well-crafted, and I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.

Opena’s work on this title is equally extraordinary. His style carries a sort of sketch-like quality that truly emphasizes all the detail he places in his panels. I even enjoyed his choices with how he renders the characters’ appearances. Opena accomplishes the task of updating these characters’ clothing and hairstyles in a way that feels renewed, yet appropriate; some artists still draw characters’ hair and fashions as if the 70s are still in full swing. The team of White, Ponsor & Hollowell are credited with the colors on this book. Sometimes multiple artists can have the same effect multiple chefs can spoil a soup; thankfully, this is not the case. The colors in this book are energetic and eye-catchy, which only serves to enhance the overall reading experience.

So far, I’d say AVENGERS is making good on the ideas that the Marvel Now re-launch was conceptualized for: providing new readers with a jumping on point that updates the characters for a new generation, without pissing all over the previous one.

Good stuff indeed!


SWORD OF SORCERY #3

Writer: Christy Marx
Artist: Aaron Lopresti
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Masked Man


Overall I think it’s really great that DC is bringing back their fantasy characters. I’ve purchased back issues of BEOWULF, HERCULES UNBOUND, STARFIRE and others from time to time, and while I haven’t read the original mini (maxi)-series of AMETHYST, I was a fan of the regular series. Christy Marx is a writer I have respect for as well, though not so much for JEM (I was a boy, I wasn’t going to watch that!),but for her work on REBOOT. I’d still argue that the third season of REBOOT is one of the best TV runs ever, so Marx will always be respected in my eyes!

Now, for better or worse AMETHYST is being written in what is being coined as the GAME OF THRONES style--it probably goes further back to Shakespeare, but that’s another article. But like GAME OF THRONES, AMETHYST is all about family entwined kingdoms with all the alliances and backstabbing involved. Marx does a great job recreating Gemworld (is it still called Gemworld?) here. I’m not sure why, but I always liked the original concept of the birthstone kingdoms, so this is my favorite part of the story: learning who all the players are and getting to understand the vastness of the Nu-Gemworld. As for the actual plot and characters, unfortunately they are still coming off as clichéd cardboard.

So this issue doesn’t have much to offer, aside from the basic fantasy story outline. Amaya gets some combat training; she’s green but shows promise (big surprise, huh?). Sisters Graciel and Mordiel have a big pow-wow to discuss how to rule the House of Amethyst; Mordiel would rather die than give up power (another big surprise, huh?). These are plot points that, to a certain degree, need to be covered, but their outcome is completely obvious, so the best one can hope for in a situation like this is to have the cliché plot points be told to us in an entertaining fashion or with interesting characters; unfortunately, this story has neither.

Aaron Lopresti’s artwork is still fairly impressive here, though. I’m glad that he has changed the hair style of Graciel, Amaya’s mom, since I was always having trouble telling the two of them part. He’s not hitting the highs of an Ivan Reis or George Perez, but all his characters look good and his storytelling is nice. It’s too bad he couldn’t finish the issue. Fill-in artist Claud St. Aubin does good job aping Lopresti’s style in the last few pages, but it clear they are not as strong as Lopresti’s pages.

As for BEOWULF, even with the constraints of a back-up story and almost abbreviated storytelling, Tony Bedard (the writer) has managed to improve the story with each issue. So while it’s not quite top notch stuff yet, I’m a little disappointed that this was the final chapter. Likewise, Jesus Saiz’s art has gotten better with each issue. To pull a bizarre parallel, I’ve always thought Saiz’s work was green, but showed promise. Here I feel his work is really starting to mature.

In both stories you can really see how DC is working hard at intertwining them with the greater DCU, which I assume is one of the goals of the New 52. For me, I could care less. I’m quite happy to have Beowulf as a standalone tale without ties to the New Sexy Amanda Waller, or for Amethyst to have nothing to do with Eclipso. I feel it adds nothing to the stories, aside from weighing them down with unnecessary details. I thought the original AMETHYST comic book started to go downhill when they tied it to Dr. Fate and the Lords of Order and Chaos. IMHO, not everything has to be related, but I suppose this helps sell more comic books, so there ya go.

Four issues in (counting #0) and despite all there good points, AMETHYST and company have yet to really get out of neutral; it scores a 2 out of 4. Moving ahead, it will be interesting to see how Steve Ditko’s STALKER will be re-imagined next month.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #2

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John Romita Jr
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: The Dean


For me, and probably any regular visitor of this site, Steve Rogers has always been a man out of time, preserving an ideal that may seem antiquated or impossible now, but still represents us at our best. How far that ideal can be stretched is what makes Rogers, or similarly flawless characters like Superman, endlessly fascinating to me. These characters lead by example, in a way, showing us that the good we believe in can stand up to anyone or anything we could possibly face in this world or any other – honesty and perseverance will get you through the regular trials of life the same way they’ll topple threats like Galactus or Baron Zemo! It’s these simple, core principles that the kid in me lights up at seeing bring down threats off all kinds, and the more bizarre the better, which is why I couldn’t be more thrilled with what Rick Remender’s been bringing to CAPTAIN AMERICA thus far.

Remender’s first issue revealed minor additions to Rogers’ backstory that brought a bit more heartbreak into the early life of the character through various flashback sequences. CAPTAIN AMERICA #2 continues to show us more of the origin elements that Remender will be focusing on in the start of his run, with a sequence that focuses on the significance of hope that was instilled in Rogers at a very young age after the passing of his dad. Hope plays an integral part in the present day story as well, as Captain America and the child from the first issue (who have now been trapped in Dimension Z for one year) fight simply for survival against the very deadly elements and inhabitants of this wasteland. The majority of this issue is like reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with Captain America in the lead, which, as you might imagine, is completely awesome.

Through a good deal of very effective inner monologue we’re reminded of those heroic attributes that make Steve Rogers the super soldier and man that he is, but I found it all much more inspiring, rather than redundant, given the grim, unusual backdrop that is Dimension Z. All this monologue also inspires confidence that Remender already has a very solid grasp on his Captain America early on, as a lot of this reads like the Cap we know, but facing a very real fear that all the hope in the world might not save him this time, and by the issue’s end, it seems as though no matter what the outcome for him, he may have already lost.

It’s also great to see John Romita Jr. doing some really great work on this so far, since I haven’t been overly thrilled with some of his other recent work, but the pairing seems to be bringing the best out of both him and Remender at this point. This has the makings of a very deep, potentially tragic story for Captain America, but the four or five big panels a page have kept it a very casual and pleasant reading experience that captures and showcases the bizarre environments well while still telling a very character-driven story with a lot of heart. I don’t think I noticed how much I was loving the work until the flashback sequence here with Steve getting bullied on Essex Street in Manhattan shortly after the death of his father – one of those sequences where the words become ancillary as the emotion and narrative needed of the scene are perfectly captured by the nine panels of art from Romita Jr. on their own.

So far my fears for the Marvel NOW! era have been pretty much squashed thanks to efforts like these in CAPTAIN AMERICA. A lot of great work that ended in order to usher in this new age has been followed up with new a greatness that shows some really exciting promise. If it’s been a while since you’ve read a CAPTAIN AMERICA comic, this is a perfect place to come aboard: it’s the Captain you know and love starting off on a brand new adventure that requires little to no knowledge of the character’s rich comic history. He’s an old man, that Cap, but the new team of Remender and Romita have me thinking that even though he’s been around for over 70 years, Steve Rogers’ best years may still be ahead of him. Or, at least, maybe his weirdest years.


TYRANNY OF THE MUSE #1

Writer: Eddie Wright (based on BROKEN BULBS by Eddie Wright)
Art: Jesse Balmer
Publisher: Self published (find more info here)
Reviewer: Ambush Bug


Trippy, existential, other-worldly. TYRANNY OF THE MUSE is not your typical comic book, but Indie Jones is not the place for your typical comic books. If you’re the kind of reader who, after experiencing one of Grant Morrison’s more “out there” writings, say “You know, I need something even more weird” try TYRANNY OF THE MUSE.

This isn’t a knock. I love experimental and creative storytelling. Some of my favorite comics, Johnny Ryan’s PRISON PIT, for example, toss logic and reason out the window. TYRANNY OF THE MUSE does so as well, but never forgets to anchor us down with an emotional core that is very, very real.

Eddie Wright offers up a tale of a very sad man named Frank Fisher who spends too much time longing and too little time living. This melancholy gent is plagued by migraines and the ever-present pressure of creating something without the presence of inspiration. That’s where a woman named Bonnie comes in, who supplies Frank inspiration like a crackhead needs a hit. Frank is very much in love with this mysterious woman as she literally represents his muse, supplying that creative pang that all writers long for in those wee hours of the night cracking their knuckles and wanting to smash their computers when the words just don’t come to mind.

What Wright is doing here is telling us a tale of that ever elusive rush of inspiration. It’s somber and emotionally nerve shredding, but damn well done, too.

Drawn very loosely, with a fluid style rarely seen in mainstream comics, Jesse Balmer is able to capture the abstract feelings emoted by the characters of this story. Through waves of energy, melting faces, and all sorts of bizarre shapes and creatures, Balmer fleshes out this mind-warp of a story with surreal beauty. You can download a digital copy of the book right here!

If you’re looking for something outside of the norm, TYRANNY OF THE MUSE is surely something you don’t see every day. Not for the literal minded, this tale of the woeful search for wisdom is one that is hard to forget.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over eleven years & AICN HORROR for two. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be available on iTunes and soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK last year from Zenescope Entertainment & look for his exciting arc on GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81 released August-December 2012. Mark will be writing GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES to be released in February-June 2013. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.


WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN #22

Writer: Jason Aaron
Art: Nick Bradshaw
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Henry Higgins is My Homeboy


Clown Wolverine Is The Best...

Seriously. He still stabs people with his claws, but while hitting them in the face with banana cream pies. At the same time. That’s the sort of sentence you don’t get to write often, but when you do, you do it with relish. That actually sums up most of Jason Aaron’s run on WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN: it’s a very good mix of creativity, humour, and sheer superheroic insanity, all wrapped together with bright and lively art.

Aaron just…good lord, Jason Aaron is a weird guy. Reminiscent of an early Claremont story, the X-Men have been captured and brainwashed (this time by a witch working for Frankenstein’s monster--it’s that kind of comic) to work for the circus. The current institute students come across them and do their very best to save them. It does not go swimmingly. Aaron is able to balance the mind-controlled parlour versions of the heroes with their inbred characteristics, making them still clearly the X-Men they are underneath the brainwashing, bt this doesn’t stop them from being the best kind of wacky evil. Wolverine has a giant mallet that he beats Quire around with, Iceman chases people with fire-breathing skills, the like. It’s an enormously entertaining comic, ultimately focusing on Idie and Maximilion as they transverse the terrible circus in search of the witch controlling all of this. It’s madcap and quick-witted, getting laughs while still pushing forward the ongoing evolutions of the main cast; Genesis only gets a few pages of attention in the book, but his scene in the hall of mirrors pretty much sums up the character in a neat nutshell.

Bradshaw’s art has been consistently good on this title. The cartoony qualities of his art style (complimented well by the bright and distinct colours of Laura Martin) help sell the circus immensely. Each character has very expressive faces and reactions, never really needing dialogue to push the story forward. As the book jumps around from setting to setting, Martin kicks into a more controlling stance, easily displaying new locales with a slight change in colour pallette or backlight. It’s a wonderfully constructed comic all around, full of great little gags (seriously, Wolverine as a clown is better than it sounds) between the exciting (but brief) action and the engaging (but likewise brief) character development. It’s an interesting comic from an already great series.


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

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