Thursday, 27 March 2014

The end is near. A lot nearer than you think.

Marvel. Slott, Gage, Camuncoli, Dell, Fabela.

So things are moving a lot faster in this book than I was expecting. It's understandable considering there's only one issue left, but by the end of this book you're left in a very different place than when you started.
The penultimate chapter in the Goblin Nation story sees Peter Parker make some developments that are sure to please fans, and sees Otto Parker (or Spider-Ock, or SpOck, or whatever you want to call him) come to some startling revelations about not only the mess he's made of his world and his life, but about himself as well. In fact you could say he has his epiphany, a real moment of clarity that may be...actual growth? Either way decisions are made and the set up for next issue leaves you in no doubt that the one true Spider-Man is on his way back. You hear that, haters?! Parker's coming back! Put down your pitchforks and 'I Hate Dan Slott' banners, the torment is nearly over! Ok, so I'm being silly now.
I actually loved this Superior run, and while Peter Parker's Spider-Man is one of my favourite, if not my all-time favourite Marvel character, it was great to see the status quo being shaken up so thoroughly. I have to say though the Goblin Nation story hasn't been my favourite part of the run, and this issue is no different.
I'm not sure if it was the ridiculous amount of hype that's been placed on this being the ultimate final battle that's been building up for the whole series or what but I can't help but feel it's all a little...flat. There's decided resolution in this issue that was reached fairly quickly, and a status quo shift that I expected would take longer to develop. Maybe I just wasn't expecting things to come to a head so soon, and leaving everything to the last issue would have been unrealistic, however when I got to the end of this issue I had to re-read it just so the importance and significance of what I just read would actually sink in.
Despite that I still find Christos Gage's writing in this issue, especially when portraying the voices of both Otto and Peter, to be spot on. The legacy of this run will certainly be that Dan Slott and the team have taken a villain that some would say isn't even Spider-Man's main number 1 enemy, and lifted him from a two dimensional character, shaking his fist at the sky, into a sympathetic study of a flawed and damaged soul.
Otto's true nature shines in this issue, as does Peter's, and through Otto's epiphany we get a real and succinct insight into the core of both men that could only come from someone who's been inside both of their heads. Giuseppe Camuncoli's pencils are nothing short of stunning. They're intricate and detailed, but you never once have any doubt as to what's going on. It's hard to portray such a frenetic figure as Spider-Man without losing the choreography of movement between panels, but Camuncoli makes it look effortless, and should not be underestimated. He also manages to look completely fresh while simultaneously reminding me of all my favourite Spider-man stories from childhood.
And that I think is the real beauty of this book. While the Goblin Nation arc may have missed the mark slightly when it comes to pacing and impact, the spirit and tone of Superior Spider-Man has managed to capture everything that's great about everyone's favourite wall crawler.

One more issue to go, and while some story lines have seemingly been concluded, there's still the big question: who is the Goblin King?!


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The tension takes a slight back seat this issue, replaced instead by stealthy agents and alien action.

ONI Press. Soule, Alburquerque, Jackson.

This is just one of those books that can't come out fast enough as far as I'm concerned, and as I'm sure reading it in trade would be very rewarding, there's also something to be said for the levels of tension that build up between issues. While previous issues have used the all-encompassing fear of the unknown to great affect, issue 5 relies on the simple fact that knowing what exactly what you fear is not always better.

Taking readers away from the ramifications of last issues cliffhanger, the earthbound side of Letter 44 involves a stealthy espionage mission to- well, that would be telling, and writer Charles Soule leaves that information to the very last page. Suffice to say they're met with more than enough resistance to make what they're really after seem extremely important. The pacing of these sections is just right, and the pay-off is worth spending the entire issue in the dark, even if you kind of wish they'd got there sooner just to see what happens next. 

President Blades has only got one scene in this issue but it's a great one, seemingly closing a door on one story aspect in a very satisfying manor. It's unusual that he's not in the issue more but after how last issue ended it's not surprising that the focus be more directed to the deep space crew of the Clarke.

Without spoiling anything about last issue or indeed this one, it's safe to say that things have never looked darker for the astronauts. They find themselves in a very alien situation (literally and figuratively) and once again Pritchard, the ever-curious scientist, gets himself and his crew mates in serious trouble. I mean really, has no one ever told him what curiosity did to that cat?! 

Soule makes a point to inform readers just how far away from Earth the team is at one point - 178,899,876 miles to be precise - in order to realistically convey how alone and stranded they really are, and that really is the crux of this book. By tethering itself to the real world so strongly, Letter 44 manages to maintain a relatable level of tension and fear. We've all seen comic book characters in worse situations even further away from home than this, but the point is that this isn't a bunch of superheroes on a day trip to Venus, this is a group of normal people on a one-way reconnaissance mission to an extraterrestrial asteroid, where merely communicating with Earth has a 30 minute delay, so receiving help is a blatant impossibility.

Alburquerque's art is at it's usual high standard, and he even gets to flex his muscles by drawing things and locations so far unseen in this book. Likewise Dan Jackson's colours get a real work out here too, as the contrast between the activities on Earth and Space have never been so different.

All in all this is still a book I can't recommend highly enough. I have no idea where the story is going from one issue to the next, and I'm looking forward to this book each and every week it comes out. Now begins the wait for issue 6!


Friday, 14 March 2014

Welcome to This Week in Comics! Ok, so if you've read my blog before, this used to be called the Reading List, but I felt like a change (it's as good as a rest don't ya know), so I'm shaking it all up a little.

Nevertheless this is my weekly column where I go through the new comics releases that I read every week, what I liked and what I didn't. Safe to say there'll be some spoilers but I'll try to keep them light.

So if you're looking for what to read or just some random guy's opinion on the comics he read this week (that's me. Hi there!) then join me as I separate the BEST from the REST in This Week in Comics!

PS - I've also reviewed this week's Valiant comics over at the excellent site IndieAltRepeat which you can see by clicking here!

The Best (My personal favorites from this week's releases)

All-New X-Men #24

Marvel. Bendis, Immonen, von Grawbadger, Gracia.

The Trial of Jean Grey continues. Even though the trial itself suffers a bit of a bureaucratic false start, the action doesn't let up. With as many as 6 (6!) double page spreads the artwork is always my favourite part of this series. They could all do nothing but sit around talking for the entire issue (and with Bendis that's a real possibility) and I would still rate this as one of my highlights of the week. Nearing the end of this particular crossover but there's great progression, brilliant character moments (expect much Angela and Gamora shipping on Tumblr, if there isn't already!) and an ending that sets up the final part to come really well.

Black Widow #4

Marvel. Edmonson, Noto.

Natasha sure does get a lot more done with her time away from the Avengers than Clint Barton does. It's easy to compare this book with Hawkeye, but mainly because they're both awesome. Seriously, if you're a Marvel fan then you're reading this book, and if you're not a marvel fan you should still be reading this book. While, yes, it does share similarities with Fraction's HawkGuy, the biggest similarity is that they take a character that's well established by now and put a fresh, almost creator-owned coat of paint on them. Other than that they're completely unique in their look and approach.

The whole "what they do in their spare time" conceit is purely set-up, as I'm sure Black Widow wouldn't call what she does here 'spare time' at all. This book contains a religious zealot taking pop shots at her with twin rocket launchers for crying out loud! Not anyone's idea of a day off is it?

Beautiful art, great inner monologue of Widow running throughout, give this book a go.

Captain Marvel #1

Marvel. DeConnick, Lopez, Loughridge.

I was genuinely surprised by this one. Never having read Captain Marvel before but always hearing great things, I thought I'd give the series a go now they have a new number 1 (maybe the constant relaunches do work?!) and I'm really glad I did.

The stream of supporting characters took me a little while to grasp, having not read any of the last volume, but they were all written well with their own individual voices, no more so than Carol herself. Genuine warmth and humour throughout the book too, which only drew me in more. The story set up/character epiphany is much like what Iron Man went through before he jetted off to space a while ago, but done a lot better, with more subtlety and believability to it.

One thing though. These Marvelites have a tendency to suddenly decide that "hey, I wanna go into space!" And just take off. I mean. Space is MASSIVE, and us humans are tiiiiiny. It would take her months to fly anywhere near Mars, let alone alien worlds. And the odds of running into anyone else would be infinitesimally minute surely? Just an amusing aside. Otherwise a definite hit.

Fantastic Four #2

Marvel. Robinson, Kirk, Kesel, Aburtov.

So the FF are being put through the wringer, emotionally and physically, and it's all James Robinson's fault. The Fantastic Four (and all of Manhattan) spend the book dealing with the bugsplosion from the end of last issue, with Sue's morose letter being replaced with Reed's morose inner monologue. Due to the subject matter and story Robinson's setting up there's not nearly enough of the humor or whimsical charm that I love about the FF in this issue, and there's more than a faint whiff of the Marvel Knights 4 series from about 10 years ago, where Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa took a more serious tone to Marvel's First Family, with mixed results. Saying that this relaunch has gotten me back into what once was my favourite series (I didn't really connect with Fraction's run), so that's a big plus, as well as Kirk's art being, well, fantastic.

The Returning #1

BOOM! Studios. Starr, Mutti.

If anyone watched the recent French series Les Revenants, they'll be familiar with the core concept of The Returning. For those who don't happen to catch obscure French television (you really should though, that was a great series) the premise is that the dead are coming back to life. Don't worry, it's not another zombie book, rather that occasionally, instead of dying, people suffer what's known as NDEs, or Near Death Experiences, and come back from a recent death...changed. As in, committing-murders-and-acts-of-brutality changed. Yeah.

That's the fate facing our main character Beth then who gets into a fatal accident and wakes up as a Changer, except she's not changed. Try telling her friends and family that however...

It's all very mysterious and definitely has me hooked. The art is dark and murky, like the subject matter, with a couple of gruesome scenes (most grotesque of which is a glimpse at what awaits on 'the other side') stealing the show. Only four issues long too so worth picking up you guys.

The Royals: Masters of War #2

Vertigo. Williams, Coleby.

For those who missed the first issue of this 6-part series last time, the premise is basic - what if Royalty (from any/every country but with the story focusing predominantly on the British Monarchy) had superpowers? And what if said Royalty decided to take a more active role in the theatre of World War II? Well I can safely answer both of those questions with one definite answer: Awesomeness ensues.
This is shaping up to be a great series, taking real historical figures and situations and theorizing about how adding super-powered monarchs into the mix would affect proceedings, the results of which may surprise you the further into the series you get.

Issue two brings us deeper into the history books then, with appearances from Churchill, Hoover and a climax in Pearl Harbour. All while poshos fly around and what not. Great stuff!

Secret Avengers #1

Marvel. Kot, Walsh, Wilson.

Another surprising number one from Marvel this week. They're spoiling us. I dropped off Secret Avengers because, well, I just couldn't bring myself to care really. All the pieces were there but...I

Not so this time around though. Ales Kot injects some fun and irreverence into the mix, taking all the same characters from the previous volume (including MODOK WOOOO! That's me, expressing my undying love for Marvel's large-headed and frankly made-of-win villain), dusting all the doom, gloom and seriousness off of them and bringing back the energy the previous iteration was missing.

Put simply, this is a SHIELD book that includes some of the more street level Avengers mostly-voluntarily working for the security agency to do whatever needs to be done. Shenanigans result.

While I'm gutted the whole issue wasn't drawn by the cover artist Trad Moore, the art on Secret Avengers #1 is still spot on. Stealing more than a page from Aja's Hawkeye in both layout and style is always going to put you on to a winner though so it all fits together with the overall tone of this - the newest, and frankly best - take on the title.

Action! Intrigue! Nudity! MODOK!! It has it all, this.

X-Men Legacy #300

Marvel. Carey, Gage, Spurrier, Huat, Kurth, Sandoval.

And our final surprise this week is...drumroll....well, X-Men Legacy. The title is like, right above, you guys.

I picked this up on a whim because I like commemorative issues. I didn't read the Legion-centric Legacy run by returning talent Spurrier and Huat so thought I may be lost, but if you are in any way an X-Men fan then you already have enough prior knowledge to enjoy this completely standalone issue. I'm not going to spoil anything about the story, other than to say you may well have some, if not all of the feels. You have been warned. I mean, it's nothing compared to last week's Afterlife with Archie but still. Feels may be had.

The Rest (not necessarily bad, but not quite good enough to be among the Best)

Daredevil Road Warrior #3 (Marvel. Waid, Krause, Kalisz)

While in no way a bad book (Waid's Daredevil is always a treat), I'm not really feeling this Infinite miniseries. The villain is kind of bland and forgettable, and the Infinite format is not really being pushed to the limit here - this could just be a regular print issue and not suffer because of it. Not bad, but not up to the incredibly high bar they've set for themselves. I just can't wait for the new relaunch.

Egos #3 (Image. Moore, Storms)

I'm still definitely enjoying this series, but this issue feels sandwiched between a solid start to the series and what I expect will be a subsequent issue in which the characters will really establish themselves and start to come into their own more. Only a slight dip in quality in terms of storyline for me, but it's earned the benefit of the doubt so far so I'll see how next issue pans out.

Hawkeye #17 (Marvel. Fraction, Eliopoulos, Aja, Bellaire)

This was a tough decision to make and one I never thought I'd have to do with Hawkeye, but when anything (be it comic, TV show or whatever) follows such a nail-biting cliffhanger with not only a flashback but a departure to a holiday-themed cartoon within a flashback, I can't in all good conscience put it among the best of the week.

Monster and Madman #1 (IDW. Niles, Worm)

The art in this issue is stunning, and the premise (Frankenstein's Creature, fresh from the conclusion of the novel, runs into Jack the Ripper in Victorian London) is definitely intriguing and nearly made it into the Best list, but The Madman of the title only appeared on the final page, so the interplay between the two characters won't be seen until (hopefully) next issue. Still. Gorgeous art.

Superior Spider-Man #29 (Marvel. Slott, Gage, Camuncoli, Dell, Fabela)

Another tough one, because I'm a big fan of this run and the whole Goblin Nation storyline so far, but with only 2 issues to go I was expecting more revelations and more plot progression this close to the end. Each of these last few issues have ratchet up the tension and claustrophobia of SpOck's hopelessly desperate situation, but here nothing seemed to land properly. There were many explosions which only worsened poor Otto's world, but a semi-major death didn't resonate, and the final 'reveal' only seemed to mock the lack of real resolution. I'm still enjoying this don't get me wrong and I can't wait to see how it all turns out, but this issue? Wasn't feeling it.

Wolverine #3 (Marvel. Cornell, Stegman, Morales, Curiel)

Well, I said last time I'd give this series one more go and I have done. What can I say? The art is awesome, Stegman has never done better work than this, but the story is still lacking. It had some interesting moments (the inclusion of the adjective-less X-team definitely boosted the book) and there are some interesting progressions that will probably keep me coming back for another go but with so many great books coming out at the moment this is close to being dropped.

And that's it for another week! I can never get around to reading everything that came out, so keep an eye on my twitter feed for updates on anything not included here, but otherwise I'll see you next week!

Until next time,


Monday, 10 March 2014

Boom! studios. Bemis, Getty


I enjoy coming into new series like this with little to no prior knowledge or expectations, or having read anyone else's reviews, and this time is no exception. I've not read Polarity, the previous series from writer and Say Anything frontman Max Bemis, nor have I seen any previous work of artist Ransom Getty, so I'm seriously flying blind here folks. That's why I love doing this blog though; it encourages me to read and think critically about stuff I wouldn't necessarily have read.

Onto Evil Empire #1 then, a book with a premise that one could say is not the most original - a world just like our own, except governed by the titular Evil Empire. Where this book attempts to break new ground however is the time period it's choosing to focus on. Rather than entering this story at the pretty cliched point where a rebellion against the empire is forming, this issue is taking you back to show the break down of a normal society and it's transformation into something dark, twisted, and wholly different from our own. What minute steps are taken along the way, that while seemingly not much on their own, all join hands and form a sinister chain of events to a unrecognisable society that's lost it's way? Would any of us even see it happening? Would anyone be able to prevent such a gradual change? While the plot of this inaugural issue takes a bleak turn, and the final page is brutal beat, it's difficult to see at this stage how it leads to the totalitarian state seen at the start of the book, and that I think is obviously the point.

"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."

It's definitely caught my attention. The flash forward at the beginning of the book to exactly right now. Plus 25 years practically force feeds you the idea that this is not like your average dystopian tale; we're not overrun by apes, or controlled by machines in a false reality or dominated by a Death Star just yet; no, this is set exactly right now and is, I imagine, set to show us just how that future comes about. With heaps of allegory and political awareness thrown in for good measure.

Our companions on this journey are Reese Greenwood, self titled rebellious rock star out to make a difference in the world and fight the power, and Sam Duggins, Democratic leader on the Presidential campaign trail. Their paths cross when Duggins heads backstage after one of Reese's gigs and declares himself a big fan of her work, then cross again when a prominent political murder throws the country into disarray.

Bemis does a good job of starting off small but escalating the situation within the final few pages, and while the execution of 'this is like our society!! This could be us! This is how fragile our system is and how it will crumble!' may be a little heavy handed for some, I'm interested enough to see how the reported 16 issue maxi series pans out. Likewise the art is enjoyable - clear but not pedantically clean, there's room for a little rough around the edges within the panels, and the faces are very expressive.

The end result of the downfall in 25 years is laid out (albeit briefly and ambiguously) in the first few pages, so the reader knows where the book is heading, but this is a tale that's very much about the journey, and I'm on board for the ride.



In my quest to overtake the internet I now write comic book reviews and articles for Gaming/Comics site IndieAltRepeat! They're a really cool site focusing on 'The Other Stuff', namely anything indie, alternative or retro, and definitely worth adding to your bookmarks!


You can find them here.


My first review for them is the first part of Valiant Comic's latest crossover Mission:Improbable, bringing Bloodshot and H.A.R.D corps head to head with Archer and Armstrong in the latter's issue #18. What did I think? Click here to find out!

Until next time,



Thursday, 6 March 2014

Welcome to The Reading List!

Here are my personal highlights of the comic books released this week.

If you've read my blog before I do lean towards Marvel/Image/Indie, so don't be surprised if you don't see many DC reviews on here.

Also: this is an open discussion of my personal thoughts on each issue as I've read them, therefore need I say...


You have been warned.

Let's get started!



Captain America #18

Remender, Klein, White


First off, while I understand having a banner advert for the new Captain America movie on the front of the new Captain America comic would make sense in theory, anyone coming in new to this series expecting a feel for what to expect at the cinema is more than likely to be left a little confused. Unless I've seriously misinterpreted the trailers.

Part two of the Iron Nail story sees more Mindbubbles! Hooray? Nah I'm being too harsh, this issue was actually more fun than last time and less 'out there'. Again, anything to do with Dr Mindbubble is going to be wacky no matter how you look at it but they explain his origin here which makes him easier to take now he's in context. Cap is still reeling from his time in Dimension Z, debating where he truly calls home. It's a great development for his character but I still feel the whole concept will get dropped by the next writer, whoever and whenever that'll be.

I'm still loving Jet Black: she doesn't get much page time but what she does get is brilliant, going all Neeson on the Cyborg-in-Charge of Weapon Minus (that's 'Taken' era Neeson, not 'Love Actually' Neeson), and Falcon proves a formidable force here too.

The art is bold, crisp and on just the right side of cartoony given the bombastic visuals and zany villain, and likewise the colours are nice and bright too. Overall a good read.


Daredevil: Road Warrior #2

Waid, Krause, Kalisz

I'm really glad these infinite comics come out weekly, because this issue - the second following Matt Murdock's action packed cross country trip - is over way too quickly.

There's a lot to love, even if it's nowhere near long enough. Matt gets no closer to uncovering the mystery, but with a very cool chase sequence that shows off the Infinite style nicely (including a stunt that in no way should have worked) and as always the writing (Cocky Daredevil beats Dark Knight-Lite Daredevil any day) and the art are what really keeps me coming back. Just more of what you love basically!



Loki Agent of Asgard #2

Ewing, Garbett, Woodard


I'm loving this.

I could genuinely leave the review there but it'd be doing it a mis-service. Loki's new start (he's all about starting over don't you know) feels like just that: new. It's got a really fresh, vibrant feeling of...newy...newness. Don't worry old Journey into Mystery fans, there's still plenty of nods to Asgard's rich Marvel history here, as well as references to more current developments (I mean seriously, I had no idea how complex Loki's personal backstory is. That opening 'previously on' page is pretty eye opening).

For those of you who saw this week's Agents of Shield episode or have read any of the information about next week's, you may be wondering just who Lorelei is and how she fits into Thor's world. Never fear - Loki: Agent of Asgard is here! Really, just pick up this issue and you'll have everything you'll need going forward. There's also a bank heist, speed dating shenanigans and a fascinating new (hopefully recurring) character in Verity Willis to keep you entertained while you're here, and is a perfect foil for our God of Mischief.

Those fans who transferred over from Young Avengers won't be disappointed either: there's obviously sexy Young Adult Loki here (who apparently gets mistaken for Harry Styles?), but there's also the familiar sense of humour running through the backbone of the book ("She Heisted my Heart" is my favourite moment) and along with some great artwork - this is shaping up to be among my favourite books on the stands.



Magneto #1

Bunn, Walta, Bellaire


This is definitely a bold new direction for everyone's favourite mutant villain, although villain may not be the correct word for Magneto. Just what he is at heart - his identity, his very nature - takes focus front and centre in this brand new number one of Erik Lehnsherr's first ongoing spotlight.

The status quo is very much rooted in current continuity; taking a break from Scott Summer's new mutant revolution to start up a new crusade of his own, with Shield seemingly on his tail; however Magneto #1 does a great job of breaking off on its own so much that you don't need to read anything before coming into this. Another fresh start it seems.

And yet his past, present and future all come into question as he attempts to uncover just who he really is and what makes him matter. This journey, tied into his core quest to rid the world of anti-mutant monsters (by any means necessary it would seem), is what drives both him and this book going forward.

There's always been a spirit of man versus machine about this character; of organic vs non organic, nature vs man-made; but writer Bunn takes that concept and adds a horrifying body-shock element to the 'Big Bad' of this issue, evolving a classic villain to oppose the titular star in a way rarely seen before.

The art is vaguely reminiscent of Steve Dillon, and as such adds a realism to the world. With a gritty, grey palette this isn't the Magneto you're familiar with, and while I'm not personally a fan of his new look (I never saw him as being so stocky) there's no doubt that the main point is that there's still a lot to learn before we label Magneto as anything - hero or villain. Very nice series opener.



Moon Knight #1

Ellis, Shalvey, Bellaire

As someone who is not wholly familiar with the character let me tell you: this is a great introduction to Moon Knight. I've read some of the previous attempts to revamp this dark and complex creation, but not even the killer combination of Bendis and Maleev could convince me to stick around. This issue however has me hooked - for as long as they want to keep making them I'll keep picking them up.

For those daunted by Marc Spector's somewhat complex back-story, Warren Ellis simply and concisely catches you up to speed with a title page that ends with "He went completely insane, and disappeared. This is what happened next." Brilliant, and like that we're up to speed! There's a slightly more detailed biography given by someone (is that Norah from Spidey's world?) seemingly writing up a blog about him and talking to someone unknown which may or may not be important. Either way after that scene we're definitely up to date, and this is where the artwork really sings, telling you as much about Moon Knight as any written word. His image stands out uncoloured from the background of each panel. He's almost left sketched, barely even inked, like he's not all there (I get it), occupying the negative space and completely dominating your focus. It's genius. Along with frankly stunning layouts (watch for when MK descends to the sewers) and it's clear the art is the real winner here.

Don't dismiss the writing just yet though. There's a dark, ethereal ending to the issue that stays with you, and a tone throughout the book that, like Moon Knight himself, really stands out from anything else out there right now. Give this a read.



Night of the Living Deadpool #4

Bunn, Rosanas


Well, that is one truly bizarre ending to the series. I can genuinely say I didn't see that coming! Bunn brings his zombie mini-saga to a close with this, the fourth issue, and I think overall it was a success. I've said before that it brings enough new ideas to stand on its own as a competent piece of zombie fiction and not just another Deadpool miniseries.

This wasn't the strongest of the issues, but with the burden of other living souls removed from his life there's more room for the Merc with a Mouth to crack some extremely dark jokes, which do come thicker and faster than previous instalments. There was an odd tendency (only odd for the character, not the situation) for 'Pool to come across as a bit morose, but here he seems fairly resigned to his fate and as such shrugs off the guilt of his actions in issue 3 and treks off with Clarence (not all of him though) in search of a cure.

There's a great quote from It's a Wonderful Life, or a typically Wade Wilsonesque paraphrasing of one anyway (did they only name his companion Clarence for that one moment?) and aforementioned bizarre ending showing that Bunn has still got more to give when it comes to this character, as well as some great visual gags within the hordes of the undead (look out for Shaun of the Dead references, among what I'm sure are many others) proving that Ramon Rosanas has been pretty perfect for this series. Not a fan of Carnage so I'll be giving the next mini a miss, but if that's your thing then Deadpool vs Carnage is coming up soon.



The Punisher #3

Edmonson, Gerads


There's a real sense that Frank is in too deep here. As his investigations into the Dos Soles cartel run into a rather...electrifying...problem (come on, it's Electro. I know, spoilers, but it's practically on the cover!) and his supporting cast start to lose faith in the system they serve in favour of Castle's more extreme form of justice, you can't help but get caught up in the world and feel that the situation is not only in dire need of The Punisher, but very nearly past his help. Which begs the question: why the hell are all the superheroes all bunched up together in New York when there are cities like this begging for them??

Nathan Edmonson hopes to even that scale of course, although he's not making it easy for our titular star. It's not like he can web up his hands is it? The writing is spot on as usual, Castle's inner monologue runs through the book lets us into his head, and the colours are fantastic - it feels like each and every page is a different spectrum that you never thought you'd see in a Punisher title. Likewise you never thought you'd see Punisher in a hooded sweatshirt but that's in here too. So yeah. Lots to see and do folks!



She-Hulk #2

Soule, Pulido, Vicente


This is just a gorgeous book. I mean, look at those layouts! The colours! The frankly terrifying 2-page spread of Jennifer Walter's steely gaze!

Yep, It's She-Hulk #2 and following on from last issue's collapse of her previous life we see our heroine build a brand new one...except, it doesn't really get the amazing kick start she expects (when does it ever) so she does what anyone else would do and heads to a bar to drown her sorrows with a friend - in this case, Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat. For a character that has, I think, literally been around for longer than Marvel comics themselves, Patsy sure does bring fresh energy into an already energetic book, and is the definite highlight of this issue.

I've read my fair share of comics involving Hellcat, but I've never truly understood why she has that name until now. We all have that friend. That one friend that no matter how much you love them, you know that they're not entirely stable and have a tendency to surround themselves with trouble. Still - that combination usually makes for an entertaining night out, which is exactly what Shulky gets with her bestie.

There's more big robots, ambitious AIM goons, a 'non negotiable' office monkey, a completely gorgeous guided tour and absolutely no reason for you to not be picking this book up.



Uncanny X-Men #18

Bendis, Rudy, Staples


There are a lot of conversations that have been a long time coming in this issue, between many characters, all happening when Kitty and the All-New X-Men made the move from one school to another, explaining that it wasn't as smooth a transition as was laid out in previous issues. And why would it be? The baggage and grudges that each of these characters carry is enough to weigh down a Sentinel, but they go some way to airing their grievances throughout these pages.

Make no mistake though - this is a Scott Summers-centric issue. After all, his erratic powers permeate throughout the artwork, providing the border for almost every panel. He's got many deeds to answer for and a lot of pissed off X-Men to answer to, but I get the feeling this is just another step toward redemption for him (we've already seen him make some form of peace with Logan in a recent issue of Wolverine and the X-Men) and maybe an end to the Schism? Maybe?

As per usual, Bendis works his magic with the individual interactions, and though the Kitty/Scott and Jean/Scott moments are heavy, there are definitely some lighter moments - Emma's frankly ridiculous reaction to Kitty's presence (she is really cracking up) and older Scotts advice to his younger counterpart ("Stay away from Redheads") help break the tension.

While a great idea and visually striking, the execution of the art often made it hard to follow the plot, especially the action sequences. The facial rendering was very odd in places too, so all in all an uneven issue art wise.

One final point, regarding continuity. This issue cleverly deals with and gets around the current Trial of Jean Grey crossover happening elsewhere by placing the majority of the issue a few weeks ago. However. Cyclops mentions Kitty being lost in space (back in Joss Whedon's seminal run) was last year. Last year? I know, I know, I shouldn't let continuity get to me and the sliding time-scale is inevitable in order to squeeze over 50 years of comics into about 10 years their time, but are we meant to believe that everything from Fury's Secret War to today took place within 12 months? Eurgh, I know. I'll drop it.



Wolverine and the X-Men #1

Latour, Asrar, Silva


After a long wait we finally get back into the world of the Jean Grey school and- wait. It's only been a week?! Boy Marvel, you're really cranking them out!

For an issue as focused on the future (in particular the future of Quentin Quire) there are a lot of references to storylines past. Remender's Uncanny X-Force, Battle of the Atom, Uncanny Avengers, not to mention the previous volume of this very series. It's all par for the course for X-Men fans of course, but new readers enticed by the big number 1 on the front may be discouraged from picking up number 2 as most of the nuances of the characters would likely go over their head.

Nevertheless, as a continuation of the soap opera of their lives this is a great read. While missing the spark of comedy of Aaron's work Latour picks up the baton well and sets up a lot of personal drama as well as bigger plots that have me intrigued. The art is not as cartoony as someone like Bradshaw or Bachalo from volume 1's better arcs, but it's a fitting look for the series and the colours stand out from the page. A great start.





Afterlife with Archie #4

Aquire-Sacasa, Francavilla, Morelli.


Good grief, this is intense. I can't imagine what it's like for true fans of the Archie universe, so invested in these characters they've probably loved since childhood, but even coming in blind like I am I can feel the pain coming off the page. This is the first time I've ever read anything involving Archie and the gang (I guess the Apple pie Americana never really translated as well across the pond) but after seeing the reviews for issue 1 and loving zombie books like I do I just had to pick it up. I imagine there are character beats that go over my head but for the most part you only need a basic understanding of the world to get stuck in.

Let me tell you: this is one of the finest zombie series I've ever read. Francavilla's art is atmospheric and visceral, and Aguire-Sacasa's plot is unflinching, unforgiving and frenetic.

As for this particular issue, well let me just say, you can put people in danger all you want, kill off any number of my favourite characters and I'll barely flinch. When it involves dogs however? That's it. I'm done. This issue? All the feels...




Velvet #4

Brubaker, Epting.


It's a cheap shorthand to refer to Bond when reviewing this book, but for the uninitiated this is what it is: what if Moneypenny was secretly as badass as the man himself, and more, what if she was framed for his murder?

This is what faces Velvet, the protagonist of Brubaker's latest crime series. If you've read any of his previous work on Image or even his Captain America run you'll know his style is deep, intricate espionage thrillers and this is a perfect example of a team at their best.

There's not much to say about the specific plot of this issue that would make sense to anyone not reading, but as she follows the trail of breadcrumbs to find X-14's true killer by tracking his last known actions, Velvet is drawn to the Carnival of Fools and an ex-KGB rogue.

Steve Epting is a personal favourite of mine and no stranger to fans of Brubaker, and it's safe to say he's having a great time on this series. His expressions are easy to read, his backgrounds crisp and real, and the layouts during the action scenes are brutal like Bourne - up close and dirty. As the lady says herself "It's desperate. Ugly". Definitely a highlight of the week.




Quantum and Woody: Goat #0

Asmus, Fowler, Passalaqua


You seriously won't find a funnier book on the market right now. Answering 'public demand' Valiant have knocked it up a notch with this issue focusing on standout sidekick of the decade (move aside, Damian Wayne)...GOAT!

Really, only Quantum and Woody could get away with a book like this. Simultaneously mocking Valiant's 'Zero Issue' format they've carried out relatively successfully across their whole line, while also elevating said format to new heights, this issue is standalone proof that if you want genuine comic book originality and humour, QaW has got your back. With some hilarious concepts like Thunder Moist energy drinks ("Shoot the Moist!!!") and 'Like a Xerox that poops: Cloning and the Animal Kingdom', and a final page twist that is as unexpected as it is genius, you should be reading this book. Seriously, you don't need to play catch up; this achieves what other issue zeroes have lacked and gives you a brilliant introduction to the title. I 'kid' you not (sorry), 'ewe' (again) won't be disappointed.



And that's it for this week!


Until next time,



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Epic in scope, claustrophobic in execution - why I love Charles Soule's political Sci-Fi thriller; and why you should too.
ONI Press. Soule, Alberquerque, Major.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for issues 1-4 of Letter 44.

By the time of this writing, Letter 44 - ONI Press' new series by writer du jour Charles Soule and by artist Alberto Alberquerque - is on issue number 4 (really no excuse not to play catch up), but there is so much going on you'd be forgiven for thinking there'd been as many as the title may suggest. But no; the title is referring to the final act of exiting U.S President Francis Carroll, namely a letter to his successor - an apparently standard practise for Presidents to do on their hand over. However, what newly appointed President Stephen Blades discovers within said letter is anything but standard.

In it, Carroll explains away all of his questionable actions during his time in office - all of the pointless wars, all of the sketchy foreign policies, all of the highly suspect economic decisions he made - all explained away with "one essential fact", what he calls "the biggest secret of them all"... that seven years ago what appears to be an alien mining operation was discovered in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and that he has spent all his presidency since that discovery not only sending a manned mission up to find out as much as they can, but pumping as much funding, time and effort into preparing his country for a potential invasion.

I came to this book with issue 3, but after reading the premise and flicking through the issue I picked up parts 1 and 2 straight away. It's such a simple concept: what if your government was hiding from you something so life altering and so scary that revealing it would potentially cause mass panic? What if the conspiracy theorists were right, that we are not alone? And how would that information affect our current political climate? Never more relevant than in light of recent revelations involving the NSA, these are nevertheless questions Charles Soule asks of the reader and of the characters within the story.

The beauty of Letter 44 is not the brilliantly simple premise, but in the delivery of that premise. There is no omnipresent narrator, no cuts to the aliens and their mysterious plans, no fourth wall breaking revelations; we find out information as and when the characters do. The first we hear about Project Monolith (the government's plan to investigate and prepare for the "visitors", and a subtle reference to Soule's Sci-Fi influences) is right when Blades opens that letter. We're there in the meetings as he uncovers everything they have learned so far, and we're there when the deep space crew onboard the Clarke first come into contact with whatever is out there. This not only serves to make the investigations of all the characters more relatable, but totally immerses you in their world. After all, this is very close to our world - politically, societally and technologically - which helps to play up the tension and the terror. It is in our very nature to be afraid of the unknown, and there is so much unknown in this story so far.

Attempting to uncover that 'unknown' are two very distinct but not dissimilar groups. Firstly there is the very much Earth based President Blades, who is surrunded by only a small gathering of staff that know all the details (and as the story progresses it's not certain all of those can be trusted). These moments on Earth are Blades story; he comes into his new post as Commander in Chief with many plans for reform and with big ideas surrounding the 'mistakes' of the previous administration, and in one short letter all of that unravels. The weight of command, of the responsibility, and of the truth bear heavy on his shoulders, and the promises made on his campaign trail become harder and harder to fulfil. His predecessor Carroll knows this burden and is seemingly eager to hand over the reigns. At the end of his letter he explains that he is done. He's out. And in a way you can understand why - he's sick of being hated in public for doing what he sees as the right thing in secret.

Despite his initial trepidation, Blades immediately sets out to uncover as much as possible, visiting with all chiefs of staff and Project Monolith itself to bring himself, and us, up to speed. There's a great page in issue 2 that's split into 4 widescreen panels, each showing off a different weapon being developed behind closed doors. All of this leads him to a monumental decision: to continue the ideals of former President Carroll and work in secret, planning for what many see as an inevitable invasion; or to go public and reveal Project Monolith to the world, with the only assurance being that no one really knows for certain why the visitors are there. One of the highlights of the (admittedly short) series so far is the opening monlogue from issue 2. In this speech, delivered by Head of Project Monolith Doctor Portek, writer Charles Soule rationally, calmly and systematically lays out all that can possibly be surmised from an alien presence of this kind in our Solar System. It's a thoroughly sobering moment for President Blades and for us as readers, and the series has rarely been more chilling or realistically scary.

The second group out to uncover the truth is off in deep space. There are 9 personnel (4 military, 5 scientific) that make up the crew of the Clarke; tasked with breaking through the 'curtain' that surrounds the extraterrestrials which blocks all attempts to remotely scan them. As you read through these early issues it's revealed that this dysfunctional band of explorers have been travelling for 3 years to reach their target, and in that time they've established a close-knit society, one with its own norms and rules that can only be embraced by a group of people that are in such close proximity for an extended period of time. As one of the crew explains in issue 3 "no one has anyone. If you ask and they say yes, then no one can say a word". A good idea in theory - a very human attempt to satisfy the common urges that would rear up when any set of people are thrown together like this, while trying to also address the insular nature of their situation - but seemingly harder to maintain in practise. Take Mission Commader Charlotte Hayden; they've been in space for 3 years, and yet she's 9 months pregnant. When the ships doctor asks if she'd like to know the father of the baby (to which she replies that she wouldn't, explaining that this is everyone's baby) you get an idea of the kind of issues their rules have raised. Throw in very obvious tensions between the two potential fathers and you sense a crew on the edge of unravelling, despite their obvious closeness.

There's also a more all-encompassing problem with the crew of the Clarke. In issue 3 we learn (again, at the same time as President Blades) that their deep space mission does not have enough fuel for a return journey; theirs is very much a one-way trip. If this was not troubling enough it's revealed that not only are they all aware of this fact, but that knowing this they all "jumped at the chance" of signing up. Why? Is it because of the thrill of the mission? For the love of their country? Or are they on the run from their previous lives? Time will tell.

It's clear here that Soule and Albequerque are weaving a complex science fiction narrative. Both Blades' story in the White House and the Clarke's story in space are extremely claustrophobic; metaphorically in the former's case, very literal in the latter. The fast pacing of the plot combines with the layouts on the page (the final splash pages being a particular highlight) and the dark, enclosing colour pallette of Guy Major all result in an almost unbearable level of tension that ratchets up after every issue.

Although it may seem like you now know everything there is to know about these first few issues, I've barely scratched the surface. From the extreme long distance shot of earth on the first page of issue 1 (deliberately at odds with the close, tight, claustrophobic nature of the book) to the extreme WTF final splash page of issue 4 (seriously...WTF...) there's lots to discover and love. Like the characters, the less you know, the more you'll want to find out, so I won't spoil any more here.

And if you needed any more of an excuse to check this series out, io9 have the entire first issue up on their site here. Go! Read!).

Until next time,

Monday, 3 March 2014

Has-been Hollywood star goes to extremes to stay young. "Things do not go to plan" - Understatement Weekly

Image. Jonathan Ross, Ian Churchill

I'm really not sure I can say I enjoyed The Revenge, I don't think anyone can truly 'enjoy' something with such a vile subject matter, a starkly grotesque plot and such intensely unlikeable characters. If I had to just give a one word review of this first issue (and I suspect the series as a whole) I'd go with visceral.

The basic plot follows Griffin Franks, septuagenarian star of schlock B movie franchise The Revenger, who's recently had a minor comeback with a reboot of the films that made him famous. Now 73, Franks has younger Hollywood nipping at his heels, and on the advice of his trophy wife Candy, undergoes extreme skin transplant surgery performed by a thoroughly questionable, possibly nazi doctor. I mean, when you go for skin transplant surgery do you really want someone who's past credentials/seemingly proudest achievement is screwing animal horns into the skull of a little person, because reasons?

To absolutely no one but Griffin's surprise, things go very wrong, although probably not for one of the endless reasons you'd think when having your face removed by a mixture between Doctors Krieger from Archer and Zoidberg from 'Rama only with less morals.

This is the kind of story that could only be told in comics, and I keep coming back the word visceral. It's really an assault on the senses in every way. The book practically starts with a two-page splash of Griffin's face being peeled off, and oh - he' conscious throughout all of it. So there's that. The flashbacks are no better either - this is a very grim, soulless world that Ross is creating, full of fake, shallow, selfish people. There is not one likeable character, apart from maybe Frank's daughter, but she really doesn't get enough page space to know for sure. Even the main character is a real douchebag, and therein lies the main problem I think.

I only read the first issue of Turf (Jonathan Ross' previous mini series with artist Tommy Lee Edwards) when it was presented in Clint, Mark Millar's UK comic magazine, but I don't remember it being anywhere near as dark as this. Which is weird because Ross seems so upbeat when he's on TV! In Griffin Franks however he's created a character really hard to root for. As his life (and skin - shudder) gets torn away from him, I get the impression you're supposed to have at least some sympathy for him, something inside that makes him relatable...but no. Through flashbacks we learn about how he got to where he was as well as the reason why it's gone badly for him, but this does nothing to flesh out the character, only the plot. You can figure out who he is pretty early on and nothing happens to change that right up to his transformation at the end. Speaking of which.

The final page is in no way a twist, or a surprising out-of-nowhere revelation, but nevertheless it completely changed how I viewed the book. I very much had a moment when I read it where I said to myself "oh right. Now I get what this is". I don't imagine this would be much of a spoiler but regardless...spoilers...this starts as a schlocky but still somewhat intriguing premise of a story, and in one thought balloon morphs into a twisted, somewhat demented origin story of the Punisher. Yup, Franks - physically and mentally abused beyond repair - takes on his movie persona The Revenger, and I'm guessing will enact some sort of revenge? Don't know what makes me think that.

Ian Churchill's art is pretty great to be fair. He captures every disgusting story beat in hideously bloody detail and every page is an assault on the senses. There's blood, gore, graphic sex and nudity...just general depravity all over. The layouts are a particular highlight, especially that aforementioned two-page, face-peeling splash. He works on colours too which are surprisingly bright considering the dark and dirty world it's depicting. This of course means everything is crystal clear and not hidden by shadows so you know, that may not be a plus...

So that was The Revenge #1. Despite the unlikeable characters I'll still pick up issue two, if for no other reason than to see if the story heads the way the last page suggests. Not a bad read though! Now if you'll excuse me I have a strange compulsion to rent Friday 13th Part XIV: Jason vs Frank Castle...

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