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Reviews for week 43: Ultimate Spider-man 3, SHIELD 2-6, Animal Man 2 and much more

Because of a very aggressive flu that has struck the whole family down this week, a whopping 23 books were read. But because the sickness hasn’t fully wore off yet, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time reviewing them. So, in rapid succession my thoughts on the books I read this week:

1. Ultimate Spider-man #3 (Marvel comics)                                                            9.2
This is shaping up to be the origin story of all origin stories, it doesn’t miss a single beat. Everything from the funny, to the emotional is there. We still haven’t seen a costume, but we did see Miles his first spider-powered heroic feat! Plus, we get to see how this story fits into the greater continuity of the Ultimate universe. The art was a bit less detailed than the last issues but still beautiful. It’s a blessing that no one wears masks in this because Sarah Pichelli draws every face unique and every expression exquisite.


2. SHIELD
(Volume 1) #2-6 (Marvel comics)                                                               9.1
Apparently we’ve got Galactus to thank for the Gregorian calendar! The main plot of this series basically revolves around SHIELD’s old leader Leonardo DaVinci, who has come back and wants to change SHIELD (when he led the brotherhood, its goal was to protect Earth from anything that would stand in the way of achieving humanity’s and Earths ultimate potential), the new leader Isaac Newton however has calculated the date the world ends and is steering to that which he accepts as inevitable. Thus, the dichotomy between humanism and religion/fatalism is a central and very interesting part of the plot. Ultimately of course, this conflict comes to a boiling point; a war of ideas, actually! I really love how this series uses big ideas and weaves them into the tapestry of the rich (yet apparently vastly unexplored) history of the Marvel Universe. I am really excited to see how all of the subplots (about the two warring factions, this kid Leonid who wants to stop them, the mysterious figure of the Forever Man and Howard Stark and Nathaniel Richards stuck in the future) get woven back together. Which, I guess, is what we learn in the second volume of this series (which is currently being published). However, I will wait till we have all the issues, so I can read them all in one sitting. With a complex series like this and with the crazy big ideas that we have learned to expect from Jonathan Hickman, I think reading it in one big chunk will work better than having to wait one or two months between issues. It’s a shame I’ll have to wait a bit for the continuation of this story. But I’m sure it will be worth the wait, as this really is a tour de force of comicbooking by both Hickman and artist Dustin Weaver.

3. Animal Man #2 (DC comics)                                     9 
I can appreciate the art a whole lot better than in the first issue, which is mainlydue from me getting used to it. But I still find it too inconsistent for my taste, some panels are picture perfect and very expressive, yet others look a bit clumsy. Also, I think the uninked linework in this book is very effective and looks really interesting, but it seems to be getting into the way of the colours. In some of the smaller panels the tattoos that appear on Buddy’s body are black instead of red, and also what’s with the pink on his chin? That being said, this issue is quite the accomplishment just from looking the way it looks. I’ve said it before, but to my knowledge it has never been more true that there literally isn’t anything out there that looks even slightly like this. On the story-side, I’ve got nothing to complain about. Once again we see how Buddy Baker balances his family life as a husband and father of two with his super heroics. Undead animals still find a haven in the Baker household as Buddy and his daughter Maxine go on a journey to explain why dead animals are walking around and why Buddy is bleeding out of his eyes and suddenly covered with mysterious tattoos.

4. Batman #2
(DC comics)                                                                                                        9
And yet another artist that draws exquisite breaking glass. More smart and innovative storytelling techniques. This is the Batman book you CAN’T not read.

5. Northlanders #41-43
(Vertigo)                                                                                   8.7
Issue 41 is a beautiful little one-and-done story about the daughter of an island leader who loses all her privileges when her father dies. Very striking, unusual art by Marian Churchland, which fits the book perfect. Oh and the colours (Dave Mccaig) are also nothing to sneeze at. Plus another great example of Brian Wood writing strong women. Issues 42 and 43 are the first two chapters of a nine issue story about the first settlers on Iceland. beautiful, hard lined art by Paul Azacetta. This is one of those stories where there are no good guys and you’re constantly wondering ‘now why’d you go and do that?

6. Ultimate X-men #2
(Marvel comics)                                                                        8.5
High ratings for the art and the spotlight on Iceman, Human Torch and Kitty. Writer Nick Spencer proves his comedic genius in the bit where Johnny goes: ´Ha! Bobby used to date a crazy chick!
A little disappointed with the new villain rev. Striker, if was left up to me this character would have never been dredged up after the classic graphic novel X-men. God Loves Man Kills. Striker was originally a great character, his later incarnations though? -Pretty sucky. This latest version looks like a half human Sentinel, only not as cool as Bastion (an important and cool looking X-men villain back in the nineties).

7. Resurrection Man #1-2 (DC comics)                                                                        8.3
After finally having read this one of DC’s 52 new first issues, I understand some of the thing I heard on many a podcast. This reminds me of a solid ‘90’s Vertigo series. This totally has the feel of DC’s mature imprint both in art and writing. It looks good and really is comparable to art from ‘90’s Vertigo series like Shade the Changing Man. Even the story credits reek of old Vertigo, with its type writer font and stereoscopic colour combination. Written by Abnett and Lanning it’s a bit darker then I’m used to seeing them do, but it works wonderful.

Aaaand the price for hottest new villains goes to the Body Doubles! But maybe they are a bit too attractive, the scene where they are lying on each other in their underwear makes no sense. I understand that DC has gotten a lot of shit about their depiction of woman in the relaunch books and in most of the books that I read I didn’t have a problem with it. But this is just silly and sexist…. If it fits the story, sure make it sexy and if there’s a good reason for it, I can get behind the exploitative angle, but this is just unnecessary and totally random cheese cake… When they have some (really still not much) clothes on however, they make for really fun villains. This series chronicles the story of this guy who resurrects every time he dies, with a new power set. He seems to be missing his memory and is visiting an old friend of his dad for some answers when he encounters these two sexy bounty hunters from Hell. Oh, and in the course of two issues, he’s already died three times. Great fun!

8. Batwing #2 (DC comics)                                                                                                    8.2
Wow is this dark and bloody, and really good! Really refreshing to read a superhero book set in Africa and one where the stakes are realistic and terribly high.

9. Reed Gunther #1-2 (Image comics)                                                                           7.9
Poppycock! This was way better than I’d ever expected. Finally bought it after all the good things I kept hearing. And really I can’t find anything I’d wanted to see different. The first issue is a fun little all ages story, beautifully cartooned about a cowboy and his bear lending a hand to a female rancher who’s cattle is preyed upon by a giant river snake. The second issue sees our heroes entering a haunted mine only to find weird reptile creatures and a magic dagger… The creators have found a great way of building a continuing story through single issue stories. If this series is an indication, the brothers who created Reed will get far in the industry!

10. Aquaman #1 (DC comics)                                                                                             7.8
I can see that this would be very new-reader-friendly. I don’t think I’ll be getting into this though, mainly because of the character. But I’m curious enough to sit the first story arc out. We’re basically introduced to Aquaman, the least popular of all superhero’s , who is taking the decision to live on land instead of in Atlantis. Besides that we are also introduced to a weird race of piranha humanoids who are bound to wreak havoc on the surface world. Great art by Ivan Reiss!

11. OMAC #2 (DC comics)                                                                                                       7.3
I appreciate the art, it just not really my thing. I couldn’t get into the writing, even with a lot of effort. Again, a lot of strong nineties vibes, which I´m not digging. This was my last issue.

12. New Mutants #31 (Marvel comics)                                                                         7.2
I’m loving the thick lined indie art by David Lafuente but I bet I’m in the minority on that one. I only wish they would have gone with the more painterly style of colours-lines, like back in Ultimate Spider-man. Story not much special. It’s just one of those frigging Fear Itself tie-ins…

13. Justice League #2 (DC comics)                                                                                     7
It’s beginning to dawn on me that the Justice League just isn’t for me. I’m not a huge DC guy, and especially this new incarnation seems rather… …silly. The art is okay, but just not for me, and really, both art and story are sooooooooooo nineties, which isn’t always a good thing.

14. Dunwich Horror #1 (IDW Publishing)                                                                  6.8
This is based on the works of H.P Lovecraft. It contains a decent adaptation at the end, though I’m not sure how true to the source the main story stays.

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Reviews for week 26: Holy keys to the Flashpoint universe, Batman!

Okay, so as soon as I sat down behind my keyboard to write this first week’s batch of reviews I realized I’ve got a problem. I don’t want to write solemnly about the comics that came out this week, or even the fairly recent ones. Truth is I’m only up to date on a handful of titles, while most books I’m weeks if not months behind on. And whites better than to read a whole slew of issues of the same title back to back?
So that’s what I did this week with Locke and Key: Keys to the Kingdom.

While issue six of Keys to the Kingdom was my absolute favorite of the week, I feel it wouldn’t make any sense to write something about issue six, before reviewing the rest of the series. So my solution is to first review all six issues of Keys to the Kingdom, which was my favorite read of the week, before continuing with the rest of the books.

So without further ado…

Reviews
I finally got around to reading Lock and Key. What I lacked for in timeliness, I made up for in reading speed. After a couple of days I opened the fourth volume: Keys to the Kingdom. While admittedly I had to warm up to the art by Gabriel Rodriguez, Joe Hill’s believable dialogues of the young protagonists sucked me right into the story. Halfway through the second series I suddenly ‘got’ why the art works extremely well with this story. It’s a horror book about children, and the art displays just that: A childlike cheerfulness with a sharp and dangerous edge to it. In the first three volumes the story of the Locke children unfolds. The briefest summary I can give is: ‘Key House mansion has many magical keys, three kids live in the mansion, a dark force is hell-bent on retrieving one such key, luckily the keys have magic properties which the kids can use to wage war against this dark force.’ Dealing with this subject matter, it an amazing feat that the story is more about character interaction than about magic key whacking.

Opening Splash page of Locke and Key. Keys to the Kingdom

The opening splash page of Keys to the Kingdom #4. Bode Locke's imaginary Squadron Strange.

Throughout the previous volumes the readers pulses have been rising as they have seen the bad guy get closer to his/her/its goal one step at a time. What’s worse is that he has taken the form of a cocky teenager who has befriended the kids. In this volume however the plot proverbially thickens as the first cracks show up in the cover of their enemy and things finally come to an ugly confrontation. With their enemy seemingly dead, it appears to the kids that better times are on the horizon. However at the end of this volume, the readers know that things are actually worse than ever.

In closing, some short thoughts: If you don’t care for Calvin and Hobbes you might scratch your head as I did during the first issue. Parts of the story seen from the youngest kid’s perspective are rendered in Calvin and Hobbes style. It fitted wonderfully however. The second issue has some clunky and heavy handed social commentary on racism, which to me felt like the worst and most contrived writing since Locke and Key started. The third issue is suddenly ultra compressed. Wikipedia describes it as 28 issues crammed into one. I agree, while I see how this played out in the overall story arc, as an issue it did not work particularly well. The three final issues however are deep fried comic book gold, nothing to complain there.

Average grades for the whole series based on the issues:
Art: 8.8 Writing: 7.9 overall: 8.2

If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor: read Locke and Key from IDW. I’ll go and find the first issue of the volume currently being published, Clockworks.

My runner-up is a current single issue, namely Detective Comics #878. With Art by Jock and words by Scott Snyder I don’t think you can go wrong. This continues Dick Grayson‘s stint as Gotham‘s Batman. While Bruce is of gallivanting the world in Batman Inc., Dick is left with the dark streets of Gotham to protect. It’s moody, it’s atmospheric, it’s noir. While the story is very much compelling, with all its twists and turns I have no idea where this is going and why it is taking the route it has. However, I am onboard for the trip!
This issue opens with Dick being captured by pirate villain Tiger Shark, who apparently lets his henchman do all the work, and because of this becomes way more compelling than his name might lead you to believe. Plus there are Killer Wales or Orca’s as I like to call them:

Batman fighting Killer Wale

Without question, Batman struggling in the jaws of a Killer Wale was my favorite panel of this week!

Batman fighting Killer Wales as rendered by Jock, I hope to continue seeing much more of this. Killer Wales are truly terrifying animal, not?
Art: 9 Writing: 8 Overall: 8.5

Also very good was the Walking Dead #86. This goes without mentioning of course. The only real topic of discussion with this series being whether the plots are too horrific, or rely too much on dialogue. However, to me it is the balance between these two ingredients, which can suddenly shift, that makes this series not only a horror comic but also a character study. This issue is a case in point: After some serious  horrifying shit went down the last couple of issues, this is where the characters pick up the pieces and try to get on with their lives. A talk between the main character Rick and the katana wielding Michone poignantly shows the state of emotional breakdown in which these characters find themselves, Michone: ‘…After everything that’s happened, why would I think that — that I could be happy? […] What’s wrong with us?‘ Oh, and there’s also a couple of zombies that get shot trough the head.
Art: 7.5 Writing: 9 Overall: 8.3 

Another great recent Bat-book was Batman Inc. #7, which proves that Batman stories can be fun. Which, I think, was one of Grant Morrison‘s main goals for his long running writing gig on the Bat. In this issue Batman is recruiting in a native American reserve. The local franchise holders on the reserve are Man-of-Bats and his son Red Raven. Without superpowers and without the money of Bruce Wayne it turns out this dynamic duo is pretty much the laughing stock of the reserve. So much so that Red Raven is one step away from quitting as a vigilante. Luckily Bruce arrives for a team up and to open his wallet. I think the following panel shows just why his money was so badly needed:

Great art by Chris Burnham on this one! And it would have scored higher if it would not have been for the typo on page 5. I can’t stand when books (let alone by the Big Two) have typo’s. Aren’t there like at least four people that should have catched this? Anyway:
Art: 8 Writing: 9 Overall: 8.5 …Nah, let’s make that 7.5 

Seeing as this is taking up far too much time and words, quick shots:

Flashpoint Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1                           7.5
Hey look, it’s Dick Grayson being happy with his parents. Let’s just give him his moment, yes? An interesting take on Doctor Fate in the Flashpoint universe shows some mysterious revelations. And very interesting to see the story of what’s left of Europe during the war between Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Plus a beautiful cover by Cliff Chang.
Flashpoint Captain Cold #1                                                                     7.5
So I am guessing this is Scot Kollins his old style? Very painterly and less cartoony? It looks really good and reads well too. Only problem that I totally got my Flashes mixed up. At the end of the book I thought: ‘Didn’t he already die in Flashpoint #2?
Wolverine #9                                                                                              7.5
While I like Acuna‘s art just fine, I always thought it didn’t really fit Wolverine. This issue he changes his stuff up, to almost look like Darwyn Cooke. Short to say, it looks fantastic! Wolverine takes revenge on Mystique for sending him to hell, and Jason Aaron writes it pretty well.
Flashpoint Wonder Woman and the Furies #1                                7.5
The art by Scott Clark is kinda Greg Landish, but way better. While this gives an interesting insight into the conflict between Wonder Woman and Aquaman even Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s great writing chops could not prevent this from feeling rather contrived. Still an entertaining read though…
X-men Legacy #251                                                                                   7.2
In my opinion Mike Carey‘s run on X-men/X-men Legacy is the qualitatively most constant run of any X series in recent years. While he may not always work with the greatest artists and it still remains to be seen where the book matters (ugh… I know) in the greater scheme of the X-universe, Carey really delves into the characters previous continuity and hit’s X-men fanboy gold. This issue shows artist Khoi Pham‘s best work ever. Clean dynamic line art depicts the fight of prof. X, Gambit, Rogue, Magneto, Frenzy and Legion against two of Legion‘s escaped personalities.
Flashpoint Grodd of War                                                                             7
Poor disgruntled Gorilla Grodd rules Africa. But as it is known as the forgotten continent his reign is largely neglected internationally. Seeking an even fight I think he might show up in upcoming issues of Flashpoint proper… While art and story where just fine, I thought the colouring was somewhat off on this one.
 Screamland #1                                                                                              7
One Fantasy Con. One Werewolf. One Creature from the Black Lagoon. One Invisible man. One former Starship captain. One Blob. One vampire. One acting Nazi robot. And one long forgotten sex tape. I mean come on, read it!
Alpha Flight #1                                                                                              7
The first Fear itself tie-in I actually like. While I was very psyched about Eaglesham on this book, they did something (inks/colour maybe?) that makes it look more like a standard superhero comic from the ’90’s than the great artwork I was expecting after having read Captain America and Fantastic Four. Solid writing, good dialogues. Great set-up for tensions between Northstar and Aurora. Seeing as I’m new to Alpha Flight I have no idea who the alien chick is, but the ‘Die human scum’-joke was priceless.
Alpha Flight #0.01                                                                                    6.5
Was this necessary? It was an adequate story, but nothing special. It also did not add much to the set-up for issue 1. Fun read though. 
Avengers #14                                                                                              6.5
This felt really contrived. We still get only one splash page of the blitzkrieg on Washington, however we do get an awesome fight between the bad Thing the Red Hulk. Apparently the Red Hulk dies and Jarvis is very upset about it. I mean come on… The whole structure of this issue, with an interview framing device was set up for something emotional, it worked out however as very cheesy.
Wolverine #10                                                                                            6.5
Not Jason Aaron‘s best work. One villain is called Cannon Foot, he kicks objects at Wolverine. We also find out what the Red Right Hand is, which is pretty cool. The back story of this organization however was not very good. Oh and the artist from the first arc is back. Not pleased with that…
Flashpoint Emperor Aquaman #1                                                         6.5
Aquaman is all brooding and angry and floods Rome. Why? Art looks kinda ’90’s but in a good way. When Merra is decapitated her helmet is empty but her hair sticks out of it, I’m guessing she was bald… An entertaining read but I think I am missing the significance of a lot of things in this. Maybe this is more for the die hard DC fans?
Flashpoint Secret Seven #1                                                                     5.5
I do not believe there was a lot of George Perez in here. And I don’t have enough DC lore in my head to understand what the hell is going on and who all these characters are.
Flashpoint Legion of Doom #1                                                               5.2
At some point in the story Plastic Man makes an appearance, that was the only good part of this comic. This book is filled with all kinds of corny puns on heat and fire, because it revolves around Firestorm and Heatwave. Also there was some wonky sequential storytelling, I will not be picking this up again.

Okay, so the first week. I read 24 books, which I rated on average 7.3. I guess that’s a pretty big week as well as a pretty good week.