Monthly Archives: August 2011

Book of the week 34: Xombi #6

This week was a bit of a downer as far as comics are concerned to me. I tore into some Avatar books (Caligula, Crossed. Psychopath) and decided they weren’t really what I had hoped them to be. The same rings true for X-men Legacy and the Infinite by Kirkman and Liefeld. However, this week’s comics provided gems like the Ultimates, Mystery Men and Xombi.

1. Xombi #6 (DC comics)


I really hate it when I repeat my picks, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Xombi, from DC, really is one of the most entertaining and well made comics that I currently know of. It was only two weeks ago that I raved about the penultimate issue five and this week’s issue delivers just as much.

Since I concentrated mostly on the art in my review of the last issue, I’ll dig into the story and the writing this time. I can be sweet and short about the art though, it’s marvelous, take a look at the digitally painted sweetness of Frazer Irving in the pictures here, or take a gander at my review of last issue for the proof.

This series has been written by John Rozum, the original co-creator of Xombi, back in 1994. Xombi is a Korean-American superhero, created for Milestone media, the DC publishing imprint from back in the nineties. The first Xombi series reached 21 issues, and was part of the shared continuity of the Millstone– or Dakotaverse (Milestone heroes didn’t live in New York, but refreshingly in the Midwestern Dakota). Last year, through the Milestone Forever event, most of the Milestone heroes have been merged into the main DC continuity.

Xombi is a young guy, named David Kim, who used to work on a nanotechnological virus. Because of the nefarious interventions of one Dr. Sugarman, David was critically injured. When his assistant injects him with the virus to save his life, the virus does repair the damage done by Dr. Sugarman. However, it uses said assistant as fuel for the reparation process; the nanites devour her. This is the price that David Kim must pay for becoming a Xombi, a potentially immortal, technologically enhanced human being who keeps running into the supernatural. His superpower is basically twofold: he can repair himself from both physical harm as well as the effects of aging; he can mechanically alter the molecular configuration of everything he touches (for example making popcorn from paper, or a key from a coin).

The first issue of the current series starts out with David getting a call from his ally Julian Parker that he is needed in Dakota where it seems a very bad guy has escaped from a miniature prison, leaving a miniature bloody mess. When he arrives on the scene, he is met by a group of Catholic super-heroines: Nun of the Above, Nun the Less and Catholic Girl. Their investigation leads them to one Annie Porter having a discussion with Roland Finch, it appears that Annie was coaxed by Finch into breaking out a certain prisoner from the miniature prison. It turns out the prisoner is the vessel of Maranatha, the personification of God’s wrath, which Finch had intended for himself. Issues two and three depict a great fight with this being, which of course the good guys win. Afterwards Annie explains to our heroes, which are joined by the afore mentioned Julian Parker and Rabbi Sinnowitz, that Finch has stolen a chart, mapping out the positions of a number of mysterious and wonderful flying cities, which he intends to conquer. Annie originally came from one of those cities, the Skull Fortress, which has been taken over by the evil Roland Finch. Since his take-over, she has spent life as an exile, down on earth, doing everything she can to get the chart back. The last half of this series deals with the heroes planning and attacking the Skull Fortress.

Throughout this whole series John Rozum introduces a great many crazy, big ideas, issue six is no exception, with enemies like the Sisterhood of the Blood Mummies, who wear cloaks woven from spider silk, by spiders which crawl all over these cloaks making any necessary repairs and feeding on the mosquitoes drawn to the sisters, as well as the Dental Phantoms, who communicate through tickertape coming out of their mouths. This issue of course follows the culmination of the battle for the Skull Fortress and let’s just say that when all seems lost its wisdom that prevails. However, it´s not just action and wacky concepts. Rozum´s story shines in the parts with character development and especially when he explores the different ways that Annie and David handle their immortality and the loss of those around them who are (mere?) mortals.

John Rozum’s website does seem to imply that there may be more Xombi coming out in the future, but that could just be me reading into things. In the meantime, we’ll just have to make do with his new Staticshock series, which is one of DC’s new 52 series… Also, this volume of Xombi will make for a beautiful collected edition. If you want to get it and want to support the creators a bit more, buy it at Amazon through John Rozum’s website.
Art:9   Writing:9.5     Overall:9.3

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Runners up for week 34: Mystery Men 5, Ultimates 1, Baltimore Curse Bells 1

2. Mystery Men #5 (Marvel comics)
Another one of those series that keeps coming back in top spots on this website. Sadly, the same applies to this series as for Xombi: ‘At least it will be over soon’. Issue five is another great one, I can’t believe this is the first collaboration of this creative team. Writer David Liss (Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, as well as books without pictures and many, many letters) and artist Patrick Zircher (Cable & Deadpool , Spider-man: Noir) these guys are obviously insanely talented. While no new characters are introduced in this classic tale of Marvel pulp heroes during the interbellum, we finally get to see Nox in all her curvaceous evilness, we also witness an interesting change in the main adversary the General. Nothing mind blowing about this series, but man it’s just crafted impossibly good. In this issue we learn that the group of vigilantes has split in two, the Operative, the Aviatrix and the Revenant reject the Surgeon’s methods (‘I like it when their veins are easy to find’). The Surgeon however, comes across Achilles and they form their own dynamic duo. In the end, all heroes meet again and they confront the General in his new (and even more monstrous) form, a struggle that doesn’t fare well for our pulp heroes.
Art:9               Writing:9                    Overall:9

 3. Ultimates #1 (Marvel comics)
Yay! Finally a new installment of the Ultimates that looks as good as it reads! One issue in, I am really, really digging it. While I think the quality was a little less than that of Xombi and Mystery Men, this was flat out the favorite thing I read this week. I have a soft spot for the original two volumes of the Ultimates by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch and this series is tapping back into that. It’s superheroes mixed with politics, realism, intelligence and intrigue and reads like the original Ultimates mixed with a little Queen and Country. Nick Fury is back in the saddle and it’s shown that he has his hands full as we follow him in the ops room, where he is dividing his attention between a border dispute between Uruguay and Argentine that is escalating into a nuclear conflict, rising tensions between the EU and the Norse Gods, a civil war in Thailand, Captain America gone missing, and to top it all off he gets into contact with the evil Reed Richards and his mysterious German-based community. This is writer Jonathan Hickman firing on all cylinders, it’s smart, it’s an info dump, it’s witty and it’s very well written. The pencils by Esad Ribic were great too, I think he can still improve a little. Some scenes looked perfect, others looked near perfect.
Art:8.3                        Writing:8.9                 Overall:8.6

4. Baltimore. The Curse Bells #1 (Dark Horse comics)
I was late for the first series, but now I’m loving this thing from the getgo. I have no idea if the world of Baltimore is connected to the Hellboy-verse, and I have not read the novel which introduced the character. Yet I didn’t have any problem getting into the story during the first series. This new volume explains enough to not have to read anything prior to this. Baltimore hunts vampires, and one in particular. He does this in Germany and Austria during the First World War, only the war has come to a halt because of a plague which is linked to the vampire epidemic. In this new series he continues his hunt, kills a lot of vampires and comes across an entirely new development concerning the vampires. Great atmospheric art by Ben Stenbeck, as can be expected from a book with Mike Mignola’s name on it. The writing by Mignola and Cristopher Golden is just as atmospheric, we really get a feel of the times and the way people think and talk about things like vampire’s and plagues.
Art:8                Writing:9                    Overall:8.5

Quick Shots for week 34: My good taste? I left it in the nineties

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (IDW Publishing)                                       8
This kinda feels like an ultimate take on the Turtles, a new continuity with all kinds of references to what’s happened in the old books. Basically we see the Turtles sans Raphael and Splinter fight this new cat guy, we flashback to a part of their secret origin were we learn of April O’Neill an intern at Stock Gen Research who thinks she’s working on bio-engineering meat. but we soon learn a thing or two about a super-soldier mutagen, from a phone call between the revamped Baxter Stockman and the mysterious general Krang. And we see Ralph eating out of dumpsters and getting ready to open a can of whoop-ass to help another familiar face. Spot on characterization: Michelangelo, after kicking a thug in the crotch: ‘Sorry, no baby gangstas for you dude.’
6. Spontaneous #3 (Oni press)                                                                                              8
This series is taking very interesting twists and turns, although the writing was a little choppy in parts of this issue. Sometimes I didn’t get what the characters were referring to or what happened in a sequence. The reporter, Emily, shares her conspiracy theory with Melvin who’s obviously struck by why he hadn’t thought of it. To top it off we learn that both Melvin and his late father fit into the conspiracy. What really makes this interesting is the relationship triangle between Melvin, Emily and Melvin’s nerdy assistance buddy who is boiling with jealousy for the relationship between Melvin and Emily, while it’s also clear that Melvin is treating the poor guy really bad (in reaction to these things the nerd guy is looking to pay Melvin back) also great is the relation between Melvin and Emily, this weirdly upbeat reporter chick who might be into him a little and thinks that everything that’s happened is cool and fun, while Melvin might very well be too but he is too busy with his own thing and much too serious about it, to see or act upon what’s happening between them.
7. Flashpoint: The Outsider #1 (DC comics)                                                            7.8
It seems that Ifanboy is right. This issue was surprisingly good compared to the rest of the Flashpoint tie-ins (of which I’ve enjoyed a big part).
8. Batman Inc. #8 (DC comics)                                                                                        7.5
Hmmm…. That was weird. At first I was bummed that I saw no Chris Burnum art. After that I’m not sure what I felt. The digital art in this issue varies wildly from panel to panel, some are downright terrible, some are beautiful and some are unintelligible. I really didn’t like the panel that looks like the people were copied out of a computer game, especially those with the plain clothes investors… This issue finally addresses the long neglected idea of Barbara Gordon as a digital Batgirl in Bruce’s Internet 3.0. It’s interesting and could have many more good stories in them (hopefully it’ll stick after the reboot).
9. SHAM comics #1 (Zombie Marge Comix Group)                                                 7.5
A great satire series where golden age comics fallen into public domain are textually re-imagined into sometimes hilarious, sometimes a bit uninspired funnies. I really like the first story about BOZO (Binary Over-Zealous Obliterator) the retro robot. A dope fueled demented killer robot with a Frisbee bolted to his head, who apparently is not programmed to swing THAT way! After the first story the novelty wore off though, and not every story was a winner. Overall it was good for a couple of chuckles and just for reading something else entirely. This issue also contained a story by artist Basil Wolverton which was pretty to look at, which featured erect trees with condoms on them. I think one issue of this was enough for me though…
10. X-men #16 (Marvel comics)                                                                                         7.2
I really want to love this series, but it’s just not letting me. Ghisler writes a great Spider-man though, to Franklin Richards, about debunking the stories about the Bermuda Triangle: ´A good debunking puts hair on your chest.´
11. X-men Legacy #254 (Marvel comics)                                                                        7
They´re in space finally, I´m wishing this series was better.
12. Crossed. Psychopath #3 (Avatar Press)                                                                 7
Really great cover by Matt Martin. The Crossed (extremely sadistic zombie-esque creatures) in this series have a thing for wearing other people’s faces (ala Leatherface). There’s one Crossed woman here though, who wears a cock on her crotch, held together by barbwire… I’m just saying: That’s the kind of story we’re talking about. Story: Survivers picked up a psycho, who is a worse threat then the Crossed, in this one he divides the group. Kills his male companion, and rapes and mutilates the female, while they are sheltering from the Crossed, which he has lead to them. Talking about the deviant… Yep, this was revolting… Boy, this is actually hard to read, it’s so gruesome.
13. Caligula #3 (Avatar Press)                                                                                            6.9
Wow, just wow. Between this and Crossed. Psychopath I’m starting to question David Lapham’s sanity. This was, just so fucking weird. Caligula is portrayed as much more than a mad emperor. He’s immortal and the guy that wants to kill him for revenge, instead gets fucked in the ass by his talking demon horse Incitatus. However, this issue his luck seems to be turning (if only a little).
14. Crossed. Psychopath #2 (Avatar Press)                                                             6.7
Panels framed by the splashes of blood of a minivan driving children over. This makes me uncomfortable reading it next to my wife on the couch…
15. Crossed. Psychopath #4 (Avatar Press)                                                             6.7
Okay, that was it, I felt kinda sick after this although I have to admit it’s easier to take over the top scenes like Crossed swimming in a pool of blood filled by children thrown in a wood chipper, than the rape scene from last issue. I like weird and nasty just as much as the next guy, but this is just too much for me.
16. The Infinite #1 (Image comics)                                                                                  6.5
This one? Also not for me, it’s certainly geared at a certain audience and that’s not me. Impressive how Kirkman and Liefeld have made the most nineties comic ever, though.

For next week, I’m going to try two extra early reviews for Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1. Also, I’ll be digging out all the DC stuff I hadn’t got around to reading in a while, so expect a DC heavy week.

Book of the week: Criminal. The Last of the Innocents #3

I’ve had a good week. I’ve won a comic book (Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1), what’s better than free comics? Thanks to Freaking Awsome Network, Image comics and creators Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert!!! This week reviews of Criminal and a whole lot of Marvel comics: SHIELD, Captain America & BuckyGladstone’s #4, Walking Dead, X-men etc…

1. Criminal. The Last of the Innocents #3(Icon)

The creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continues to amaze. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I first read Sleeper (published by Wildstorm). While I don’t enjoy Brubaker’s mainstream stuff nearly as much, mostly every work by Phillips is perfect as far as I am concerned. I think I’ve read the first three volumes of Criminal and lost interest somewhere along the way. This latest volume however (The Last of the Innocents), seems to have reinvigorated the series. It has certainly reinvigorated my interest in it.

The previous volumes of Criminal have been loosely interconnected continuity-wise. As far as I can tell though, The Last of the Innocents thus far stands alone. As I wrote in my review of the second issue, Criminal tells stories about characters making some morally reprehensible decisions. Case in point is Riley Richards, the main character in this story, in good noir storytelling fashion, we watch the story unfold though his eyes. In the first issue we came to know him as a successful urban banker. In his private life however, things have been looking down for a long time. His marriage is a joke, he knows his wife is cheating and he’s badly in dept to a loan shark. Additionally he has become estranged from his friends and family in his hometown Brookview. At the end of the first issue he devises a plan to ease his woes: kill his wife and pay his dept with her money. In the second issue, that’s exactly what he does, and in this issue we follow him on the day after the murder. As it turns out Riley is a conniving son of a bitch, who doesn’t shy away from killing his spouse or manipulating his best friends to obtain an alibi (even if this messes up the sobriety of his recovering junkie best friend). Although his plan was well thought out and executed perfectly, in this issue some cracks start to show and we also learn that his father-in-law is pointing a private detective at him, because he suspects Riley’s hiding something.

Art by Sean Philips, from Criminal. the last of the Innocents #3.

Art by Sean Philips, from Criminal. the last of the Innocents #3.

Not only is Ed Brubaker responsible for making Captain America cool, his most important qualities are his fascination with pulp noir stories (be prepared for some narration through caption boxes) and the sublime way he writes morally grey characters. This last asset is what the Criminal series revolves around. A fun little fact is that he has always wanted to write for Archie, and in this series every character is an analogue for an Archiecharacter.

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker channeling Archie comics in Criminal. The Last of the Inocents #3.

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker channeling Archie comics in Criminal. The Last of the Inocents #3.

If you are accustomed to Sean Phillips’ art style you’ll agree at how well it fits the dark, sometimes macabre, sometimes desperate stories that are told in this series. I wouldn’t do the artist any justice to compare him with others, because his style is both very unique and ever-changing. This has never been truer than in this volume of Criminal where the flashbacks are told in the wholesome style of the good old Archie comics. I don’t think I’ve seen Phillips flex these kind of muscles before, but he pulls it off wonderfully. As far as I can tell, Archie comics should add Sean Phillips to their stable of artists. This change of art style provides the story with some comedic relief, while also adding to the feeling of lost innocence as referred to, in the title of this series. It’s not just the dirty Archiepages that made this book my pick of the week though. The pages that tell the story of Riley in the here-and-now are amazing as well.

Sean Philips is a master of facial expressions. Art from Criminal. The last of the Innocents #3, published by Icon.

Sean Philips is a master of facial expressions. Art from Criminal. The last of the Innocents #3, published by Icon.

I was stunned by Phillips’ effective use of different types of body language and facial expressions. Especially in this story where the protagonist is lying through his teeth and (flat-out acting each time he’s in public), it’s a huge benefit that the artist is a master in facial expressions. The reader can clearly witness the different faces Riley puts on in different surroundings. I’m very curious to see how this story concludes.
Art: 9.5                       Writing: 9.5    Overall: 9.5

Runners up of week 33: SHIELD 1, Cloak and Dagger 1, Captain America & Bucky 620

2. SHIELD (Volume 1) #1 (Marvel comics)              
Last year when it originally came out, I didn’t give this series a fair shot, as it was written by this newcomer Jonathan Hickman, and had nothing to do with Nick Fury or the Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division. I got the first issue, read the first couple of pages and declared it crap. This week, after listening to John Hickman on the Wordballoon podcastmy interest was sparked and I sorted through my shortboxes to find this issue. And concluded that I had really done myself a disservice for not taking this series seriously. It turns out to be wonderful. It plays on some Marvel continuity Easter eggs (Egyptian En Sabah Nur joining Imhothep’s resistance, cameos by Howard Stark and Nathaniel Richards), while delivering a wholly original and smart story, that may well be retconned into Marvel cannon.  In this first issue we follow this young guy named Leonid, who has unspecified superpowers (and shows the black of the universe in his shadows). Leonid is taken into this organization called the Shield (called after Imhothep’s shield) and taken before the High Council in the Immortal City under Rome. Here, it is explained that the Shield knows “the final fate of Man“, and that their mission is to ensure nothing threatens the world before this occurs. A great premise and some seriously beautiful art by Dustin Weaver. I can’t wait to dig into this the next couple of weeks!
Art: 9.5               Writing: 8.5      Overall: 9

3. Spider Island : Cloak and Dagger #1 (Marvel comics)          
I’m not following this whole Spider Island thing, I’m not a big fan of Dan Slott’s Spider-man and something about this event just didn’t click with me. I picked this book up, because I’ve been a fan of Cloak and Dagger ever since the days of Maximum Carnage and had heard good things about it on the Ifanboy podcast. I loved how the characters of Tandi (Dagger) and Tyrone (Cloak) were juxtaposed by writer Nick Spencer. I thought that this was most effectively and entertainingly done in two caption boxes where both Cloak and Dagger describe the state of New York, when they first got around to doing some super heroics. Cloak: “Criminals ran the streets, preying on the innocent, poverty and hopelessness were everywhere, it was a den of filth, perversion and greed.Dagger: “Everything smelled like pee”.  Great stuff… Art duties where done by the talented Emma Rios who gave this book quite a distinctive look. I loved how she constantly drew Dagger surrounded by splotches of lights, while Cloak was followed by dark smudges everywhere. The only thing I didn’t like was the panel where Luke Cage seems to be wearing a plastic witch’s nose. The story was pretty standard, but executed very well. Cloak and Dagger are evaded from their church and get caught up in a fight between the Avengers and a bunch of Spider-men. Plus, we also learn that the near future holds some pretty dark stuff for Dagger…
A8.9       W8.4      O8.7

4. Captain America & Bucky #620 (Marvel comics)      
The short of it is: if you want to read a good Captain America book, read this and not the McNiven/Brubaker series. Sorry, but this is waaaaay better. The art is (as could be expected) knocked out of the park by Chris Samnee. This is basically an origin story for Bucky and Samnee has adequately tweaked his style to fit the era. The story shows James Barnes growing up at a military base with his father. Young Bucky is always getting into fights and his father discourages him to do so. When his father is unexpectedly killed in action Bucky stays on the base and is taken care of by Mayor Samson. With his father gone, he lets his mean streak out and is never far away from a bar fight. He becomes so adapt at fighting that he gets assigned to some super-special-training, to eventually (unbeknownst to him) become Cap’s partner. Sure, this summary of the story sounds a bit cliché, but the combination of superb art and great writing make this one hell of an entertaining story and I can’t wait for the rest of this series.
Art: 9              Written: 8.5   Overall: 8.7

Quick shots week 33: Screams are the best sauce!

Panel from Gladstone's school or World Conquerors #4, published by Image comics, art by Armand Villavert.

Panel from Gladstone's school or World Conquerors #4, published by Image comics, art by Armand Villavert.

5. Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #4 (Image comics)         8.5
This is my favorite new series out of Image this year, and it continues strong. The opening pages are full of action, while the rest is both sugary sweet (finally the romance between Mummy Girl and kid Nefarious kicks in) and funny. With great linework and exceptional colors, this is a beautiful book. The kids visit Mummy Girl and her dad Thoth to study for the mystical relics exam. But to do that, they first have to fight through a swarm of Ammut’s Stone Guardians of the Dead. This is a great all ages superhero book. If you’re not reading it, you really should check it out. This issue had me cracking up, when asked about comic books, Mummy girl suddenly sets of on a rant (for a preview see image below).

Art by Armand Villavert, from Gladstone's School for World Conquerors (Image comics).

Art by Armand Villavert, from Gladstone's School for World Conquerors (Image comics).

For a one minute overview of the first issue of the series check out this Comic Minute.
6. The Walking Dead #88 (Image comics)                                                              8.5
Aaaaaaaaaand the situation with Carl and especially Rick’s reactions gets more complicated! It seems both Carl’s memories, as well as his emotions got damaged by his recent trauma capitis. Meanwhile Rick seems to be fleeing from his own emotions. Solid art, just as always, and an intriguing story combining both strong emotional dialogues as well as some set-up to move the plot forward: It seems not everybody is glad with Rick’s group at their settlement.
7. BPRD. Hell on Earth. Monsters #2 (Dark Horse comics)                         8.5
Great, great art… Liz is still stuck in a trailer park filled with weird religious fanatics (as opposed to the normal ones) who want her dead, and almost every time she seems to get a break, it falls through… Plus, we also get a sneak peek of the cataclysms that Hellboy is causing/dealing with in Hellboy the Fury. Plus, we have two short departures to BPRD headquarters, where one of the big guns suddenly has a ‘critical malfunction’. Really amazing storytelling, only feels a little short.
8. Moon Knight #3 (Marvel comics)                                                                        8.3
The series as a whole (and especially the art) keeps improving. It’s a well executed comic, it just doesn’t excite me. We see how Marc Spector got his new tech expert and how he immodestly outed himself as a madman to him. We also see him trying to get together with Echo and we learn who’s hired to go after him, the Night Shift: do we know these guys?
9. X-men Schism #3 (Marvel comics)                                                                         8.2
Jason Aaron handles the X-men great. Things come to a boiling point between Cyclops and Wolverine, when Cyclops sends an untrained kid into battle against the Hellfire club (who have just defeated Emma, Colossus, Iceman, Namor and Magneto). I’m with Wolverine on this one…
10. Ultimate Fallout #5 (Marvel comics)                                                                      8
Well written stories, I especially liked the dialogues by Nick Spencer in the Quicksilver story… The Nick Fury story by Hickman has me all giddy for his upcoming run on the Ultimates, it looks to be reminiscent of the Millar and Hitch run, which is one of my all-time favorite story arcs.
11. Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the unknown #3 (DC comics) 8
Okay, so we’ll see everybody from the miniseries fight in the Flashpoint finale… Great little story with a silver age twist that stands well on its own. A shame the previous issue had some art problems, this series seems a good introduction to next month’s Frankenstein: Agent of Shade
12. Moon Knight #4 (Marvel comics)                                                                              8
This series just doesn’t grab me. While last issue Maleev’s art was up to snuff with his Daredevil stuff, this issue took a little step back, especially in the fight scenes. I love Maya Lopez, it’s great to see her again, I also love Mark Spector sitting around listening to his imaginary Wolverine, Spider-man and Captain America, it’s well written, the story is just not getting me. This was the last issue for me…
13. Ultimate Fallout #6 (Marvel comics)                                                                  7.8
I like Gwen and her new look, weird that it makes her look way older though… Very well written coping of the situation by May and Gwen. Art by Bagley looks more than ever like his nineties stuff and although I’ve never been a big fan of it, I’m loving this. In the last few pages it gets a little less good, plus I never expected to see Nick Fury cry. Let alone the Ultimate one… Misleading cover though, Cap is not featured in this issue and there’s only one line referencing the fact he quit SHIELD.
14. New Mutants #29 (Marvel comics)                                                                       7.7
Great story of Dani trying to get in touch with Hella to look for help with all the Fear Itself stuff, but instead she’s being summoned by Hella… The rest of the team is back in SF, oddly not fighting the Juggernaut. That was a little weird. Also, X-man is now part of the team and is just standing around, while he is apparently suddenly very passionate about his new team mates. Great art by David Lafuente, really reminiscent of JRjr drawing the New Mutants back in the eighties, I liked his Ultimate Spidey stuff better, but it looks like he’ still finding his bearings on the characters and settings, I think this will be beautiful next issue.
15. Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #3 (DC comics)                                       7.7
Solid art, don’t understand the need for the flashbacks… Hate, hate, hate, though it’s entertaining, things feel a little too convenient… And again with the empty helmet with hair, flying through the sky… Of all the gore and guts that are displayed in comics, why the hell is DC shying away from depicting the decapitation of Merra?
16. New Mutants #28 (Marvel comics)                                                                      7.5
Dani Moonstar invites an outside psychiatrist to attend to her teammates, in doing so, she has to explain concepts like Nate Grey and his relation to Hope Summers. I just love the way writers Abnett and Lanning boldly embrace decades of convoluted X-history. This is an in-between issue, but a very good one. Art was okay, a little too manga-ish for my taste but fits the book well.
17. X-men legacy #253 (Marvel comics)                                                                   7.5
Weird art inconsistencies were the art actually got better for a couple of panels, but then dropped in beautifulness again… Finally Rogue, Magneto and Gambit are going after the lost space X-men…
18. Captain America #2 (Marvel comics)                                                                 7.2
Enough with this Heroic Age shit. First we get Daredevil in daylight and now a Brubaker penned Cap that’s not dark and gritty? The banners are gone, but this feels like the same old Cap we knew before Brubaker came onboard. Mcniven’s art wasn’t as good as last issue. Weirdly, this book is trying to combine Inception with the Captain America movie. I mean, REALLY???
19. Flashpoint: Deadman & the Flying Graysons #3 (DC comics)          7
It seems rather pointless having this story concluded, the Amazons were after the Helmet of Faith, but didn’t get it. Deadman died and Dick joined the resistance… So I guess we’ll see Dicktor Faith and Deadman in the last issue of Flashpoint… It was entertaining though and better than last issue. Art-wise, some panels were great while other were rather rough…
20. X-men #15.1 (Marvel comics)                                                                                  6.8
The writing in this is just so corny. Cyclops: “Vengeance is on back order. But we just got a fresh shipment of get lost.” Or what about a demon who threatens: “…or you will still be awake when we feed on your intestines. Screams are the best sauce.” While the art was pretty good, the story seemed pretty pointless. Introduction of hopeless situation, enter Ghostrider, fight, fight, fight, twist after battle, X-men walk away… No character growth, emotional beats, forward moving of an overarching plot, nothing of the like…
21. Batman #713 (DC comics)                                                                                           6.5
I picked this up because of the solicit text: “Over the years, Dick Grayson has worn several guises: First, he was Robin the Boy Wonder, then Nightwing, and finally Batman. But now that Bruce Wayne has donned the cape and cowl once again, Dick finds himself at an identity crossroads.” This lead me to believe, this issue would get into the post-reboot changes. Turns out it didn’t, nor did the story relate even a little bit to the solicit text… Art was good, story felt kind off stocky…

Book of the week 32: Xombi #5 (DC comics)

An okay week this time, a perfect number of books, not many from this week, but most of them scored pretty high on my own personal enjoyment scale. Scores averaged to 8.1 on 14 titles. I rounded it all of this weekend with the third story arc from Image comics’ Chew. Which provided some most excellent Sunday afternoon reading material. While writing the reviews tonight I stumbled upon the great little video’s from reviewtopia.net, called A Comic Minute. This totally made my day, go check it out: It’s one minute staccato summaries/reviews with the art from the books in one minute or less!

1. Xombi #5 (DC comics)

Cover art from Xombie #5, by Frazier Irving, published by DC comics.

Cover art from Xombi #5, by Frazer Irving, published by DC comics.

Xombi, to me is the surprise hit out of DC this year. I’ve been a devotee of Frazer Irving’s since his run on the Inhumans (the Silent War miniseries) at Marvel. Thinking back at that now it seemed a crude way of painting comics, more akin to Daniel Acuna then say JH Williams III. The selling feature mainly being that the art was painted, not necessarily how or why it was painted. But with Xombi he has stepped up his game big time. From the first issue onward, it was clear that Irving chose a bold color pallet, with which he would play around in different scenes and shots. This issue, it finally hit me however, that it’s not just the colors or his Dali-esque surrealism, but even more it’s the way he handles lighting that makes my jaw hit the floor approximately once every two pages. Wheter it’s in mundane situations like an apartment with the television being the main light source, or in a magical environment like the flying platforms; Irving understands light sources and the way their light breaks or hits objects, like no other artist I know of.
Opening page from Xombie #5, with art by Frazier Irving, published by DC comics.

Opening page from Xombi #5, with art by Frazer Irving, published by DC comics.

Last issue, I felt, dragged its tail a little, because it was mostly characters talking to explain the back-story of the flying platforms, the Skull Fortress and newcomer Annie. It looked good, was well written and still very entertaining, but I just missed the all-out, wacky action, and that’s what this issue delivers as David Kim (aka Xombi) and his rag tag reli crew prepare to invade the Skull Fortress and fight this series’ adversary Roland Finch. Most of the issue deals with preparing for battle, while only the last three pages depict the beginning of the battle. Yet, still this issue delivers on all fronts. It has the characters strolling through the flying stronghold and admiring its majestic views; getting into fights with each other; talking strategy; battling; and taking some relationship advice. This issue invested much in humanizing the characters, especially Annie and David. Annie is guilt-ridden about her part in Finch’s rise to power and worried about what her time as an exile from the flying strongholds (where time comes to a stop) has done with her life, while David is preoccupied with the fact that he has never told his fiancé about his powers and his superhero lifestyle. When both of these characters get into a discussion with their own problems on their minds, things go BOOM! Writer John Rozum writes wonderfully realistic and relatable dialogues between two characters that are drawn to each other, but too different from each other to make a worthwhile connection. That is one aspect of the story I had not foreseen when I opened this issue. Great human writing, in between of all the over-the-top, whacky, super heroics, make the stakes feel much higher.

A gorgeous page by Frazier Irving, from Xombie #5, published by DC comics.

A gorgeous page by Frazer Irving, from Xombi #5, published by DC comics.

I really have nothing but praise for this issue and this series as a whole. Before I started this volume, I’d never read a Xombi comic (or any Milestone publication for that matter), but that did not cause any problems to my enjoyment of this book. I really can’t recommend it high enough! I was innitially worried that Xombi would disappear after the DC reboot next month, but I just found out that a new series will start in February. (Damn, that was a year old, I don’t think there are plans in the work for more Xombi…) If you’re still not sure about it, please take a look at this Comic Minute from the first issue:
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hPFugrfvcAI.html width=”480″ height=”385″]
Art: 9.5 Writing: 9,5       Overall: 9.5

Runners up of week 32: Red Skull 2, Red Wing 2, Criminal. Last of the innocents 2

2. Red Skull: Incarnate #2 (Marvel comics)
As a historian myself, and having studied Nazi Germany for a while, I have to tip my hat to Greg Pak for the amount of authenticity he manages to seep into his writing. The amount of research he must have done, must be ridiculous, as well as the way he must have critically edited his own writing and the incoming art from Mirko Colak. This may sound off-putting, but this is no graphic novel historic documentary, it’s a typical comic book, just as you’d expect, only damned good. With the Captain America movie in theaters all around the world Marvel can’t be blamed to publish a Red Skull origin just now. But this is not just another cash cow. It’s a very well executed story, that may have been in the pipeline longer then the movie and tells the story of young Johan Schmitt, the boy that will one day become the Red Skull. The story plays out in 1930’s Germany, where they know what a real financial crisis feels like. Poor, little, red haired Johan is given a rough start at life, and in this heart wrenching tale we see a shade of grey, who may have turned white, slowly turn darker, and darker.
Art: 8.5 Writing: 9.5       Overall: 9

3. The Red Wing #2 (Image comics)
This high concept tale of tie fighter, time traveling high jinks keeps delivering in the quality department! Great art, great writing telling a great story, in an overall fine package. Without spoiling, I really can’t say too much about this book. The one cadet following in the footsteps of his father, who’s missing in action time (and presumed dead) has some issues, while the reader learns that the father’s story is far from over. The concept of time and time travel, get explained to a time traveling fighter pilot, who doesn’t really get it himself. While, this may sound intellectually challenging, even with your brain turned off, in the most passive reading mode, the given explanation turns out to be just as entertaining as it is compelling. This book contains a couple of short pages containing prose, companioned with an illustration. Contrary to some of writer Jonathan Hickman’s earlier work however, it fits seamlessly into the story. The end of this issue has a cliffhanger I could not have foreseen, and I am very much interested to see how this is explained and dealt with. Also, check out the Comic Minute from the first issue of The Red Wing:
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hPFugszCcwI.html width=”480″ height=”385″]
Art:9 Writing:9 Overall:9

4. Criminal. The last of the Innocents #2 (Icon)
If you hate stories with despicable protagonists, then stay clear from this series. Or better yet, stay clear from the whole line of Criminal books by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips, because every one of its main characters have something seriously wrong in their head.  Take for instance this series’ ‘hero’ Riley Richards, he has a lousy marriage, knows his wife is cheating on him, his best friend is a recovering junkie, and he has gotten used to a costly lifestyle that has led him to make debts at the address of some gangster. The only way out of his problems, he decides is to kill his wife and that’s what he sets out to do in this issue. He thinks everything through, and even creates a strong alibi by orchestrating the falling off of the wagon of his best friend. When said friend falls down unconscious, Riley’s alibi will be that he has been with him all night, taking care of him, while in reality he was out killing his wife. Sounds pretty rough, right? Fortunately, this miserable plot is interspersed with little flashback vignettes about Riley’s past in his wholesome hometown Brookview, which are drawn in the Archie style. These ‘dirty Archie’ tales provide both some breathing space in this dark and macabre story, as well as deepening the emotional implications of what Riley is doing. Also, a lovely cover by Sean Philips.
Art: 8.6 Writing: 9           Overall: 8.8

Quick shots for week 32: Chewing on some Detective comics while spontaneously shooting my Sixth Gun at some Marvel comics

5. Chew #11-15 (Just desserts) (Image comics)                                                   8.4
Slowly, but surely I’m getting up to date on this series. These five issues, were all very good, but I have some problems with the story format. This did not feel like a five issue story, more like a one issue story, followed by a three issue story and then another one and done issue. That’s why I was a bit disappointed by issue 15. I was hoping for plots to be resolved, but none were and only more questions arose. Really original story telling though, I don’t think there is anything like this on the stands.
6. Spontaneous #2 (Oni press)                                                                                       8.4
Line of the week? “Erin Brokovich didn’t just go after a book deal, Melvin. And she didn’t fight the power just to get Julia an Oscar. Sometimes we need to put the public good first.”   The story is moved in a different direction as the reporter girl starts piecing together the puzzle connecting so many people in the town of Bayville who have spontaneously combusted. The character of Melvin is also explored some more, and we get to learn a little more of what happened on the day his father died and what role he might have played in this tragic happening.
7. Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine #2 (Marvel comics)                                  8.3
This book is filled with things I didn’t ever expect to see: Magneto and Electro exploding into an EMP, the Punisher shooting the Beast’s head off, Willie Lumpkin’s head on a spike… Really very entertaining, the art has even improved since last issue, this really feels like it could be a big event book. Only problem is the Thing being a zombie pimp, didn’t we also see that in Marvel Zombies?
8. The Sixth Gun #13 (Oni Press)                                                                                      8
Shit, when I got the last page and discovered that this was the second issue of the current story arc I found out I’ve missed an issue, which may have left a mark on my reading experience (it sure does explain a lot!) Will be picking up issue 12 soon, I’ll reread this one then too, maybe it’s score higher next time? Becky and Sinclair fight of a hoard of monsters coming for the remains of general Hume, the good guys win at a great price…
9. Detective comics #881 (DC comics)                                                                          8
Seamless transformation from Francevilla to Jock. Very different styles, but I did not notice the change until al whole lot of pages had gone by already. Since this is the last issue before the reboot and it involves Barbara Gordon aka Oracle (aka soon to be Batgirl) being kidnapped and tortured by her stepbrother, the stakes were high. At one point I really thought they were gonna kill her. They didn’t and the story was neatly wrapped up. Nice ending, I wish this run could have lasted longer.
10 .New Avengers #15 (Marvel comics)                                                                     7.8
Great to see Squirrel Girl in action, kicking Logan’s ass, Bendis writes her really good and believable. I like Deodato, but the last pages really didn’t click with me… Oh, and is he capable of drawing woman that aren’t smoking hot? I mean Squirrel girl never looked particularly attractive right?
11. Ultimate Fallout #4 (Marvel comics)                                                                   7.5
Solid art and stories, finally digging into the Ultimate Origins miniseries, interesting to find out Reed Richards is still alive and maybe not bad to the bone (or deranged?) and of course the black Spider-man who comes to the conclusion, that his costume is in bad taste. Better art then the last couple of issues and the stories have some more meat to them.
12. Fear Itself #5 (Marvel comics)                       only because of the great art: 7
What an odd coupling, this great, great art and this clumsy writing. I appreciate the way that this is going back to the old, wacky, silver age stories, and I give credit for the way the villain’s castle comes down over DC and stuff. That’s really reminiscent of the classic stuff by Stan and Jack, otherwise my disappointments in this series continue strongly. The character voices are mostly off, the story jumps around so much it becomes unclear what’s happening a lot of the time, furthermore there are plot elements introduced that aren’t explained. For instance you don’t get the significance of Cap yelling to the Avengers “Don’t let the hammers hit…” What: Each other? The ground? You? I don’t know, the turnaround page shows that whatever is hit, caused a big explosion. The panel before doesn’t make clear that the hammers are going to hit anything in particular. Oh, and the Thing is turned back to normal by Franklin Richards (who suddenly and conveniently appears on the scene), couldn’t he have thought of that earlier?
13. FF #7 (Marvel comics)                                                                                          6.9
Black Bolt gets his pimp on. I’m not digging the art. Story was just fine. (I know, sometimes ‘review’ is a very big word…)
14. X-men Legacy #252 (Marvel comics)                                                      6.7
Finally Magneto’s change of heart gets explored (if only a little…) It’s weird that Parisians are begging for their lives in English, yet Gambit keeps barfing out French one-liners… This wasn’t terribly exciting, the story of Legion’s escaped persona’s continues and feels very formulaic. This is certainly not the highpoint in Mike Carey’s X-men run.

Quick shots for week 31: Another bunch of number one issues

5. Rachel Rising #1 (Abstract Studio)                                                                            8.3
About a girl who wakes up from the dead without knowing that she’s deceased or remembering what happened. Very effective storytelling. The sparse use of dialogues show off Moore’s strengths. There’s a car sequence in here which didn’t look very good. The rest of the book is gorgeous, especially the opening sequence, which also introduces a mysterious female figure who looks on as Rachel rises. Which adds another mystifying layer to this story. Really curious as to what’s going on.
6. Flashpoint #4 (DC comics)                                                                                                 8
Nerdgasm! Cyborg, Flash and Batman’s dad stand around in the kitchen of the Marvel kids to get captain Thunder on board with their little invasion of the Amazonian occupied Brittain.  Kubert’s art is still improving and the writing is a marathon of kick-ass moments interwoven into a story that actually makes some sense. What more can you wish for? (Yeah, my ‘reviews’ are pretty much based on my personal taste instead of critical analysis…)
7. X-men Schism #2 (Marvel comics)                                                                                8
Great art. I have to wonder though, why Wolvie looks like an ogre? And later on Scott looks way too scrawny.  Plus on the writing side: Aaron makes Rogue sound even dumber than she’s normally portrayed, which is a shame for all the character development she has gone through under the pen of Mike Carey. “Selling organs to dire wraiths,” that’s classic!
8.  Zeke Deadwood, zombie lawman. With a hammer in my hand (SLG publishing)                                                                                                                                 8
A great little one-shot about a zombie lawman riding an undead horse, who enters a town where a mad judge has hung all citizens. Highpoint of this issue is the dramatic shootout between Zeke Deadwood and a robot sheriff in the Wild, Wild West. I picked this up on a whim, when it was recommended on the 11 O’clock Comics forum. I couldn’t be happier with it! Fun story and great looking art, check it out!
9. BPRD Hell on earth. Monsters #1 (Dark Horse comics)                                  8
Good stuff, I understood everything while this is the first BPRD issue I’ve ever read. Great art by Tyler Cook (on the cartoony side of things). First-rate story about Liz holing up in a trailer camp.
10.  Avengers #15 (Marvel comics)                                                                                     8
I’m really tired of the interview framing of the story, while it doesn’t fit a blockbuster event tie-in, it does allow for some great character development. And that is what we get this issue as Hawkeye, Miss Marvel and especially Spider-woman take center stage. Basically, this whole issue revolves around a kiss and it has some interesting quotes before and after to contextualize this development. Sounds dull? It really works very good, although I have to wonder if Bendis wouldn’t be better of writing this kind of stuff into a series like the Gillmore Girls instead of the Avengers.
11. Sweet tooth #27 (Vertigo)                                                                                                8
It looks like Gus bites the big one, though his journey is certainly interesting and looks very fascinating. Some time ago, I read a tweet by Jeff Lemire that he was painting some of his pages, well here’s the result. It looks wonderful, very dreamy and atmospheric and surreal; it shows a hint of Edvard Munch here and there. I can see that working on this got Lemire excited. But most of all, it’s exciting to see what happens next month, will the book be resolicited as Jepperd and co?
12. Ultimate fallout #1 (Marvel comics)                                                                     7.9
Perfect emotional beats, which feel a little cheap, but completely works. It made me choke up, while I’ve heard of people crying. Everyone is mourning for Peter and for Spider-man… Cliffhanger of Cap taking blame for the death of Peter before aunt May was a little lame. Great art by Bagley, which in some places looks more like his nineties style, which is not a bad thing to me.
13. Invincible #81 (Image comics)                                                                                   7.9
Art a little too loose for my taste, not bad but more Larsen-esk. Kirkman realistically writes how Invincible is dealing with the death of thousands in Las Vegas last issue, as well as a reformed (but mentally unstable) villain his obsession with Mark, especially this plot ends on a very strong note. This panel really invests in making Mark human, not just through his relations with normal people like William and his mother, but this time by digging into his mind and playing around with his guilt and insecurities.
14. Gates of Gotham #3 (DC comics)                                                                            7.8
An in-between issue, not a lot happens, the art a little worse than last time. Good squabbles between the different bat characters. The architect, the villain is becoming more interesting.
15. Punisher #1 (Marvel comics)                                                                                       7.5
Good new take on the Punisher which focuses more on the cops that are investigating the case which Frank is also looking into. If you like the movie Seven you’ll recognize the faces of detectives Somerset and Mills. I really liked Greg Rucka’s (the writer) work on Gotham Central, Detective Comics and Queen and Country. Somehow his Marvel stuff never capture’s my imagination the same way…
16.  Ultimate fallout #2 (Marvel comics)                                                                   7.4
Especially liked the Gabe Hartman pages, he changes his style to work better with the earlier ultimate Spider-man artists while staying true to his style. Liked the fallout of Pete’s death; the funeral and MJ’s uncovering of what happened. The Thor and ultimate X parts though, not so much…
17. Flashpoint: Canterbury Cricket #1 (DC comics)                                             7
Great cliché origin, some more insight into the British resistance, solid art, good writing. I hope we get to see more of this religion-based superhero. Maybe in Xombie? (-Oh, wait that great title will not be around after the DC reboot…)
18.  Ultimate Fallout #3 (Marvel comics)                                                                     7
Again the structure is really weird, I get that Marvel wants us to buy their comics. But promotional material should be free, this is very much a promo. Varying quality of art especially the Karen Grant and Kitty stories were good, it seems like Kitty, Bobby and Johnny are quitting the super-heroics, though I bet not for long…
19. Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #2 (DC comics)           6.9
The conflict between Aquaman and Wonder Woman escalates. And Wonder Woman gets a new helmet as a reminder of ‘what the war has cost all of us’. This has a lot of the moments you’ve wanted to see, if you’ve read the Flashpoint main title. Solid writing by Abnett and Lanning, the art begins good but peters out at the end.
20. Batman. Gates of Gotham #4 (DC comics)                                                    6.9
Both art and writing take a sudden dip as the creative team gets a shake-up. This issue is written by Kyle Higgens and Ryan Parrot while original scribe Scot Snyder is acknowledged with a mere story credit. Art duties are split between Dustin Nguyen and Derec Donovan (original series artist Trevor McCarthy is nowhere to be seen), despite having two pencillers the art still looks rushed. Let’s just hope (although it’s very unlikely) that everything will turn back to normal next issue.
21. Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 (DC comics)                                6.9
Art a little better than last time, no probs with writing. But the design on subject zero is very bad. He looks like a giant from Dragonball Z or something… Story: we get to see the lab rat life that Kal has grown up in, in the Flashpoint Universe. General Lane is the only one who tries to connect with him on a human level and ultimately saves his life at a great price…
22. Robocop Terminator. Kill human #1 (Dynamite!)                                   6.5
Nothing too special about this one. It shows how a first issue does not work all too great. While the final cliffhanger has me intrigued over what will happen during the rest of the series (and fearing that it will be only action), the rest of the issue doesn’t intrigued me a bit, it just sets up the story for Robocop awaking in the future where Skynet has taken over… Great covers though…
23. Flashpoint: Deadman and the flying Graysons #2 (DC comics)       6
This is one of THOSE JT Krull issues. While there is nothing wrong with the story told, the dialogue is crude and feels to be laid down haphazardly. Art took a wrong turn since last issue (like most of the Flashpoint tie-ins)…

Holy shit, that were a lot of comics. I’m dialing it down next week but expect a review of Red Skull Incarnate #2 and some more Chew…