Monday, 30 December 2013

Sex, Book One: The Summer of Hard Review (Joe Casey, Piotr Kowalski)



What would happen if Bruce Wayne stopped being Batman - could he return to civilian life?


You wouldn’t know it from the cheap, attention-grabbing title, but that’s what Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski’s Sex is all about, and all it proves is what an unappealing storyline that is to pursue.


Simon Cooke is a billionaire playboy who runs a global company and is secretly the superhero vigilante, Armored Saint, protecting Saturn City from criminals like Prank Addict and Shadow Lynx. Annabelle LaGravenese is Shadow Lynx, a cat-like burglar with goggles who frequently tangles with Armored Saint. But when Simon’s close friend Quinn asks him, on her death bed, to leave the vigilante nonsense behind and find happiness in a real life, Simon finds it hard adjusting to what most people term a normal life - sleeping during the night, working a job, having friends and a sexual partner.


While the premise sounds like Casey has some subversive ideas on the Dark Knight, after reading Book One, I can tell you that Casey doesn’t have anything at all to say about Batman, Catwoman, etc. His Batman is somewhat resistant to sex because his many years spent living his alternative lifestyle and muses that his real identity might’ve been behind the mask than without it. Yawn. I’m sorry but that’s a pathetic observation that’s been made numerous times before. Casey’s Catwoman has eye problems after wearing a mask that incorporated super night vision goggles. Oh, and Casey borrows Frank Miller’s idea of Catwoman running a brothel. That’s it?! His Joker character lives through the news clippings of the past and has the worst villain name ever - Prank Addict (though to be fair Armored Saint and Shadow Lynx are equally shite).


There’s precious little of any real substance to justify the eight issue length of this first book. That’s a longer-than-usual amount of issues for the first collected edition in a series and really there should be much more here than those lame character observations but there really isn’t. Maybe Casey’s spending the extra pages to world build? Well, there is a lot of sex depicted in this book (and it’s all full frontal so this one isn’t for kids) but Saturn City isn’t a place that’s any more saturated with sex than any city in our world and besides that it looks identical to every other Western city, so no, Casey’s not world building, he’s just wasting time.


And despite the brazen title and frequent, often gratuitous and pointless nudity, this isn’t a shocking book. It doesn’t have any brilliant ideas and it’s characters aren’t interesting. There’s certainly no plot besides watching Simon sit through numerous business meetings. And this is why Batman works better than this - we read Batman because of his awesome adventures; we don’t give a fuck about his life as Bruce Wayne, who has to sit in on business meetings every now and then. Take away the Batman aspect and you’re left with a businessman going to meetings - in other words, fucking boring comics!


Also I don’t care about Simon or anyone in this book. He’s a one-dimensional dweeb who lives in luxury and doesn’t want to do it with any of the gorgeous high-end call girls throwing themselves at him because he’s just not there yet mentally. Why would anyone care about this guy if that’s the (non)dilemma? Can anyone relate?!


There’s some side stuff featuring supporting characters where a old man gangster, creatively called Old Man, is doing something evil, and a dishwasher who’s secretly a martial arts expert/hacker who’s messing with a pair of homosexual gangsters, but nothing you could call a plot. I suppose with the inclusions of these crimes and Simon’s dithering lack of direction as a civilian, it’s pointing to the conclusion that he’ll (sigh) once more don the Armored Saint uniform? Whatever. I’m not going to read Book Two to find out.


Piotr Kowalski’s art is damned good throughout and his covers are stunning, showing an imagination lacking in Casey’s script. The pull-back shots of Saturn City are really pretty and gives the story a strong sense of grounding and atmosphere, and the characters’ facial expressions are very evocative that express moments of comedy or conflict perfectly on their own. Brad Simpson’s colours are brightly colourful and exciting, making the pages pop in sharp contrast to dark Batman comics, particularly the Batman: Black and White comics.

In comparing this book to Batman I’m actually making it seem more interesting than it is - really it’s the lamest facsimile of Batman coupled with the third act of Eyes Wide Shut, both minus the masks and the interest. Sex features a collection of cardboard cutouts apparently doing something in between scenes of sex acts. If that sounds appealing, as well as a sequence where “Catwoman” masturbates to the memory of being chased by “Batman” across the “Gotham City” skyline, then Sex is for you. Otherwise I’d say this is the one time it’d be safe to avoid Sex.

SEX Volume 1: Summer of Hard

Eternal Warrior, Volume 1: Sword of the Wild Review (Greg Pak, Trevor Hairsine)


Gilad Anni-Padda is the Eternal Warrior, a multi-millennium-old champion of the planet, killing anyone the Earth God asks as part of her obscure plan. But after thousands of years of service, he turns his back on the God’s wishes and decides to retire from being her Sword (contract killer). Except old warriors are never allowed to rest for long and after Gilad is brought back to the life he thought he’d left behind for good, he vows this time to make his exit permanent by killing his former boss - the Earth God!


Greg Pak gets the series off to a cracking start by opening the story in Ancient Mesopotamia with Gilad’s people, including his son Mitu and daughter Xaran, fighting the Death Cult of Nergal, whose warriors get hulked out on dark magic. Lots of cool action ensues and Pak sets up the characters relationships nicely with Gilad favouring his son Mitu and disliking (for good reason it turns out) his daughter Xaran.


The series takes a while to set up once the action is over and done with. There are multiple “houses” of the Earth, the Wild, and the Wheel (and probably others) that people belong to, each house has an Eye (someone magical who communicates with the god of that house), and a Sword (someone who carries out the actions of the god), and it’s this exposition and scene-setting that slows the book down after it’s initial burst of momentum. I realise it’s necessary and Pak does a decent job of setting out all the information, but it still feels somewhat convoluted when presented in this book.


The story in this book feels epic in concept - Gilad goes to kill the Earth God - but is disappointingly pedestrian in execution. It basically amounts to Gilad blowing up a tree! The action in the second half of the book is also less interesting than in Ancient Mesopotamia. The bulk of the story takes place in the present day (sometime when Gilad’s not involved in the Unity storyline) with the fight scenes involving guns and therefore boiling down to one side firing at another, which simply isn’t as exciting to see compared to elephant stampeding into monstrous regiments and mad sorcerers.


Trevor Hairsine’s art is fine though and his action scenes are superb - there’s a strong sense of motion playing out over several panels that has a dynamic kineticism to them. Also Clayton Crain’s artwork in issue #2 set in post-Civil War America is stunningly gorgeous. Epic painted landscapes with amazing colours from Brian Reber and elegant yet vicious fight scenes all make, at least part of, this book absolutely beautiful to look at.

If the book starts out promisingly and ends somewhat generically in a mess of action with the good guys predictably achieving their goals, the second volume at least looks to be more imaginative. Playing up the eternal part of the title, Pak is going to set the next part of the tale 2000 years in the future while reintroducing the Death Cult of Nergal - with a twist. The first volume of Eternal Warrior is good in places, dull in others, and decidedly average overall, but it’s not a bad start to an interesting series that I’m curious in seeing where it’ll be headed next.

Eternal Warrior Volume 1: Sword Of The Wild

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody Review (Mike Dawson)


Freddie & Me is Mike Dawson’s autobiography framed by his love of the rock band, Queen. Mike lived in England for a few years as a kid, fell in love with the music the first time he heard it, and then his parents moved the family to America where he’s lived since.


I’m a fan of Mike’s podcast, The Ink Panthers Show or TIPS, which he does with fellow cartoonist Alex Robinson (author of Box Office Poison among other comics) where they talk current affairs and funny stories from their lives, ironically with little in the way of comics talk - the show is genuinely funny and I highly recommend it. So I wanted to check out one of his comics as I’ve read some of Alex’s books already, and while I think Freddie & Me is a decent comic, I felt it was flawed mostly for its subject matter.


Simply put, Mike hasn’t lived an interesting enough life for it to be documented in such a lengthy comic. A 300 page book where the only thing of note is the author’s move from the UK to the USA while a kid, and then obsessing over Queen, is not enough to justify or sustain it. I know everyone thinks their lives are fascinating but mostly they’re not and Mike’s certainly isn’t. Honestly, it’s an ordinary life and without anything of particular note that makes it stand out from others.


Take for example, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the story of growing up in a funeral home, discovering she was gay, and that her father’s suicide was linked to his own homosexuality which was repressed. Or David Small’s Stitches, which is about the author’s fight against cancer at a young age and rendered speechless through multiple surgeries while his parents’ marriage crumbled around him. These are just a couple of comic book autobiographies that contain unique and fascinating stories that are worth reading about. Getting torn up about Freddie Mercury dying… it’s just not on the same level.  


And that’s really my biggest problem with it. Reading page after page where Mike’s ordinary moments get written about: breaking a neighbour kid’s toy and being yelled at by her father, bragging to friends about running away from home and living on the road a la Kerouac (and of course not doing following through with it), girl “problems”, and complaining about how music these days isn’t as good as when he was young. It got so utterly boring that I gave up at the 150 page mark and skimmed the rest - Mike grows up, still loves Queen, meets the woman he’ll eventually marry, and then meets George Michael in real life (he mocked his sister’s love of George Michael but as an adult grew to appreciate him as an artist in his own right).


There are some interesting digressions such as the format of memoir and how we remember things as snippets of events that we then build up stories around that probably aren’t accurate in how they actually happened. The discussions of memory in a memoir are thoughtful if somewhat rambling, and of course I love Queen’s music too and can relate to Mike’s appreciation of their albums and Freddie’s voice and showmanship.


But 300 pages, Mike! Man, this book seriously needed to be edited down! The book can be summarised thusly: Mike likes Queen, he had an untroubled childhood except for the transatlantic relocation that actually went quite smoothly, and then pursued his love of drawing into adulthood where he became a professional artist. There’s very little here that really needed 300 pages to tell which is why it feels frustratingly slow to read most of the time. Other indie cartoonists choose to write about the mundane minutiae of their lives, like Julia Wertz, but do so in original and more entertaining ways - Mike’s anecdotes are bland and flat for the most part, which is surprising given how funny he is on his podcast.

Mike’s a fine cartoonist who clearly understands the language of comics and knows how to put together a comic really well, but Freddie & Me isn’t a great comic. I think that he needs to tackle a subject more substantial and interesting in order to produce a book that would do justice to his talents. It’s definitely one of the weakest comic book memoirs I’ve ever read.

Freddie & Me

Uncanny Avengers, Volume 1: The Red Shadow Review (Rick Remender, John Cassady)


After the events of Avengers Vs X-Men, Captain America came up with an idea to improve their public image by creating a team made up of both Avengers AND X-Men - enter the Uncanny Avengers with their leader, Havok aka Alex Summers, the brother of one of the most notorious characters in the Marvel U, Scott Summers aka Cyclops aka the guy who killed Xavier. Speaking of Xavier, the Red Skull has somehow gotten ahold of his corpse, taken his brain out, and gained his psychic powers! Red Skull assembles his own team called the S-Men and tries to take over the world with his new superpowers.


There were a few things about the book that annoyed the crap out of me but the one thing that consistently bothered me was the Xavier’s brain thing. Red Skull literally cuts open Xavier’s head and scoops out the brain - and then suddenly he has Xavier’s powers! There’s a scene missing here. Did he eat the brain and thus gain the powers? Did he cram the brain into his own head somehow? How does someone gain a psychic’s powers from said psychic’s brain?! I realise this is a Marvel comic so plausible explanations are the last thing I should be expecting, but just a line to elaborate on this very important plot detail would’ve been appreciated - even if Red Skull simply said “I ate his brain and got his powers”! It’d be cray-cray but it’s something. As it is, it just feels lazy to not mention it and leap ahead.


The other thing that really annoyed me was Rick Remender’s writing which is unusually clunky and overly descriptive. I get that maybe he’s doing a tribute to Chris Claremont (I’m assuming he’s a fan, I don’t actually know), but this overwriting style is strongly reminiscent of Claremont’s X-Men comics, where the action taking place within a panel is described either by the characters in their dialogue, or in the narrative box in the panel, or both (which is why I hate most of Claremont’s stuff). It makes reading the comic that much drearier and more tedious. It doesn’t even feel like a style that belongs in comics, it’s much more suited to prose fiction or radio plays.


Then there’s the team itself which is an uninspired lineup at best. Havok, Scarlet Witch, Rogue, Wolverine, Cap, Thor - it’s so arbitrary and, after reading it, I don’t really get why these characters were selected, besides their obvious popularity (discounting the obvious ones who haven’t had their own movies yet). There’s just no chemistry among them at all.


The team’s very existence is a big problem for me too. One of the most irritating tropes in superhero comics is when a team gets bogged down in what the public think of them - this angle became a big part of the New 52 JLA and JL and played a big part in why those titles stank to high heaven, and it made my heart sink when I realised this was the angle Uncanny Avengers was taking as well. Because you know what that means? Board meetings. Superheroes sitting around tables, talking about how to make the public like them. It’s like reading actual Marvel/DC marketing meetings! It makes for horrible comics every time.


The artwork is the only thing I really liked about this book with John Cassady’s art looking terrific. Every page he draws is awesome but that scene where Rogue escapes from Red Skull’s S-Men is really something. It’s imaginatively laid out and uses Rogue’s mutant powers to full effect, and also strikes this great balance between eye-catching, exciting and thoughtful all at once. I also liked the Days of Future Past cover reference with Havok and Scarlet Witch.


Oliver Coipel’s artwork is also fantastic (he draws the final issue) though I disliked the way the pages were laid out initially, with the panels with dialogue boxes running down one side and a straight column of text running parallel alongside it - do we read them left to right and down like normal or read the panels first then the text? It’s confusing, though maybe more damning is how little I cared about what was happening in either, because this book’s story is utterly boring. Red Skull tries to talk over the world again, superheroes fight him on the streets of New York, and he escapes like a cartoon character through a hole in the floor! Then the book ends on the whole PR nonsense. This is also the book where the controversial Havok scene where he says he doesn’t want to be labelled a mutant - or the “m” word as he calls it. Remender’s response to critics of this scene was stupid, but reading it in the context of this book really isn’t bad and I feel it was overblown by some comics commentators at the time.

Anyway. Uncanny Avengers just isn’t for me. I think it’s too flawed in too many ways, in concept and execution, though both mainly stem from the writer, Remender, who doesn’t help by writing in a way that is outdated and bound to be tiresome to modern comics readers. But mostly, it’s a boring comic. It doesn’t feel fresh or exciting and reads like any other generic superhero team-up comic - there’s nothing uncanny here, just frustration.

Uncanny Avengers - Volume 1: The Red Shadow

All-New X-Men, Volume 3: Out of Their Depth Review (Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen)



Since the first volume of All-New X-Men, Mystique has been robbing banks and whatnot, stockpiling the cash because she no longer believes in anything and just wants to be rich. In this entire volume all that happens is the X-Men stop her. That’s the whole book. A sub-plot that turns out to be completely irrelevant becomes the main storyline of an entire book. The subtitle to this volume should’ve been Out of Ideas.


If you’re unfamiliar with the series premise, the original X-Men have been brought to the present from the past and now refuse to go back thanks to the X-Men telling them what happens to them. This dumb premise was worn out by the second book at the most and in this third volume just feels repetitive and dull.


One of the original X-Men leaves to join the other side, but it’s hardly a shocking moment, plus I’ve read the Battle of the Atom mini-series and know what happens at the end of that bizarre storyline, so it’s even less memorable to me. The Uncanny Avengers also show up after the original X-Men were seen robbing one of Stark’s properties, though Wolverine calls it instantly that it’s a Mystique and Mastermind trick - which of course it is. Even Wolverine feels jaded at Bendis’ feeble attempts at story.


The only reason to have the Uncanny Avengers show up is so that Havok aka Alex Summers can meet his brother’s younger self and the two can have a moment. Awww… whatever. We’ve seen moments like this time after time since the original X-Men showed up and I’m getting bored with it, especially when Bendis has nothing else but to have characters meet these younger characters and remark on how innocent and different they are. It was cute at first but really, move on already!


Stuart Immonen’s art is definitely the best and only good part of the book. The guy makes every book he works on look absolutely amazing and even the generic mutant on mutant fight scenes look fresh and exciting in his hands.

Brian Michael Bendis is a writer who doesn’t really do story but instead likes to focus on character interactions - nearly all of his current books are the characters quipping at one another, and All-New X-Men is no different. No plot, just characters tossing off sarcastic one-liners. If that’s your thing, fine, this series definitely has its fans, but it’s not enough for me. After three books of mediocre mutant stories and a half-baked Event comic, I’m walking away from this title - so long, All-New X-Men, maybe in a few years you’ll get a storyline worth reading! At the rate Bendis is writing this out, it’ll take that long!

All-New X-Men Vol.3: Out Of Their Depth

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown Review


As a pre-teen, I was a huge WWF wrestling fan in the early ‘90s - I had the sticker albums, a bunch of taped matches, and loads of wrestling toys and a ring (or squared circle); I loved all that crazy stuff. I left it behind when I became a teenager and never went back but I remember a lot from that time. There was a fake barber with gardening shears called Beefcake, a Scotsman in a kilt who was also in movies, and literally dozens of colourful wrestlers from hitmen to bushwhackers. Arguably the most memorable was Hulk Hogan with his handlebar mustache and yellow outfit he’d tear before his matches with “I am a real American” playing as he entered the ring - and his most memorable fight was undoubtedly his match against Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3.


It wasn’t until a few years later after watching The Princess Bride that I looked up what had happened to Andre the Giant and found out he’d died in 1993 - oddly, about the time I was at my most obsessed with wrestling - at the relatively young age of 46 in his sleep. That was the last I thought about Andre for over a decade until I read this excellent comic book on the Giant’s life by the superb Box Brown.


The book follows Andre Roussimoff’’s remarkable life as a 7ft 4in tall man, how he got into wrestling and his rise to stardom. But this is more than a catalogue of events in a life; Brown imbues the story with Andre’s personality, a voice taken from anecdotes from friends, his numerous TV appearances and some artistic licence to make reading it more enjoyable. As a child, Andre was too tall to ride the bus so had to sit in the back of a pickup to be taken to school. Brown adds little touches like Andre’s dad giving the driver a bottle of wine for the ride, and the driver making jokes about his name, Beckett, and the famous playwright. Details like these - small, almost negligible - lift up this story and make it infinitely more personal.


While wrestling in Japan, Andre sees a doctor for the first time in his life and is diagnosed with acromegaly - a condition that means that, as big as he already is, he’ll continue to grow. The extra growth would add extra pressure to his joints, bones and heart, and the doctor grimly tells Andre he’ll be dead at 40 (he was out by 6 years). To illustrate Andre’s vulnerable physical state, he once broke his ankle just getting out of bed in the morning!


And while his condition is sad, and, as Hulk Hogan points out at the start, that wherever he went, he was ridiculed for his size, this book doesn’t sentimentalise Andre’s life nor make him out to be an untouchable saint - Brown gives us the full picture of the man he was. Andre was casually racist toward his fellow wrestler Bad News Brown (though they make up before Andre’s death), he fathered a daughter and only saw her 4 times in his life, the mother finally getting him to pay for child support after years of dodging payments, and he was frequently boorish, drunk and rude to friends. During a match with One Man Gang, a wrestler he knew to be a teetotaller, he snuck a beer into the ring and poured it down the unsuspecting wrestler’s throat!  


After the filming of The Princess Bride, Rob Reiner discovers Andre’s bar tab was $40k and his lengthy drinking sessions are documented here - he reportedly drank over 100 beers in one sitting! Each of the main actors in the movie get a page with an Andre anecdote, my favourite being when Robin Wright was cold, Andre put his hand on her head, enveloping it entirely, and warming her up! Other famous moments like his Letterman appearance in ‘84 and his fight with Chuck Wepner (the boxer whose fight against Ali became the inspiration for Rocky) are also included.


Of course, the wrestling is written about the most and Brown explains the various wrestling terms so that anyone, regardless of their familiarity with it, will find the book accessible. Wrestlemania 3 was the biggest fight of Andre’s career, with the event selling 90,000 tickets, as Andre faced off against Hulk Hogan. Brown goes through the preliminaries of the fight, showing how the WWF (now the WWE, having lost a legal case with the World Wildlife Fund for the acronym) built up excitement for the match, staging a rivalry between the two wrestlers (in real life they were friends). Brown then goes through the fight, explaining how the two sold the action to the audience and how it was choreographed. Brown shows not only a strong understanding of wrestling but enlightens readers as to its machinations.


And while a common refrain from critics of wrestling is that it’s all fake, and it is, well, the wrestlers are really up there doing the heavy lifting. Hogan does lift Andre in the fight and that’s not fake, nor is the giant standing on Hogan’s back fake. More than anything this book shows that you do need to be in good shape to do half of what these guys do in the ring. One of my favourite scenes in this book is when Andre’s in a bar drinking and a coupla drunks talk smack about how wrestling is fake and that wrestlers are pussies, then run away when Andre stands up in front of them. He chases them out and tips over their car - with them inside, terrified - single-handedly!


Box Brown has created a wonderful book about the life of one of wrestling’s greatest, Andre the Giant, as well as a great book on wrestling itself. It’s well written and drawn in Brown’s understated yet delightful illustration style, and by turns informative, entertaining, real and heartfelt. If you’re unfamiliar with the guy’s work, check out his comics on his website which are absolutely terrific.

The book didn’t bring me back to wrestling but it did make me look up tons of wrestling matches from the ‘80s and ‘90s on Youtube which took me back to when I was a kid and in awe of wrestlers like Andre and Hogan. Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is a fantastic comic by an enormously talented cartoonist. Whether or not you enjoy wrestling, this is a thoroughly engrossing book that’s well worth reading.

Andre the Giant

Forever Evil #4 Review (Geoff Johns, David Finch)


Read my review of Forever Evil #4 here: http://whatculture.com/comics/forever-evil-4-review

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Monday, 23 December 2013

Batman Incorporated Volume 2: Gotham's Most Wanted Review (Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham)


Talia Al-Ghul’s Leviathan is taking over Gotham and only Bruce Wayne’s Batman Inc. can stop them! This is it, the final battle between good and evil, father and mother - and what happens when parents fight? The kids suffer. Gotham’s Most Wanted is a kitchen sink soap opera played out as high melodrama between superheroes. It’s also Grant Morrison’s final book in his seven year Batman run and it’s as amazing a finale as you’d hope. 

I highly recommend re-reading the first volume to remind yourself how it ended because the second volume picks up immediately after, mid-action sequence and barrels straight on through to the bitter end. The pacing in this story is insane as Morrison throws massive scenes at the reader, one after the other. Some members of Batman Inc. have already been killed by the Abomination – another of Talia’s experiments with Bruce’s DNA and hers, though this one turned out far more physically monstrous than Damian – while Gotham’s children have been brainwashed into becoming homicidal maniacs, fighting what remains of Batman Inc and the GCPD in the streets alongside Leviathan’s forces! 

This book has one of the year’s most talked about moments in comics: the death of Damian (and no it’s not a spoiler when it makes international headlines!). Morrison goes full circle from introducing Damian to readers in his first book, Batman and Son, to taking him away in his final one. You can see what a great writer Morrison is in the way he’s developed Damian over the years. Re-read those early books and you’ll notice how insanely evil Damian is when he first arrives. He nearly kills Tim and beats Alfred, refusing to listen to anything Bruce has to say, and even killing one of Gotham’s lesser costumed crooks. In this book Bruce knows Talia’s after Damian so tells him to stay behind in the Batcave – and he does! And when he sees the havoc Leviathan is unleashing and wants to help his friends, he looks to Alfred for permission to leave. Damian’s changed over the years, respecting his new family and changing his values from the ruthless to the compassionate. 

Damian’s character shows in other ways as his pet menagerie grows with the inclusion of Alfred the cat (who readers will remember seeing in those amazing alternate future Damian-as-Batman issues like Batman #666 and Batman Inc. #5), alongside his dog Titus and, of course, Batcow. He’s gone from unfeeling ninja assassin to an ordinary kid who loves animals. 

If Damian’s character has softened, his fighting abilities sure haven’t and he goes down in his fight against Abomination like the legend he is. I could write in depth about this scene but I’ll just say 1) his final farewell with Dick Grayson was awesome (Damian: We were the best, Richard, no matter what anyone thinks. Dick: Hey, we can’t help being great. Damian: Ready?), and 2) the way Chris Burnham draws the fight is phenomenal, at one point putting in 20 panels on one page and making each one count – that’s special. It was my favourite fight scene of the year, it’s so damn brutal and brilliant. 

Bruce meanwhile is the other half of what makes this book a masterpiece. Talia brilliantly puts him in a death-trap knowing he’ll escape but knowing that the time it takes for him to escape will make him unable to save Damian in time. She’s such an evil genius! Damian’s death is as shocking to Bruce as it is to us readers, and his reaction is crazy. Barefoot, barehands, stepping on broken glass, he goes to town on the armoured Abomination! Dick joins him in defeating him, though of course don’t kill him. It’s a very cathartic scene if you’re a Damian fan. Bruce saves his rage for Talia, turning himself into a one-man army in the process – double Batman (that’s deliberately cryptic, you’ll have to read this to see what that looks like)! I won’t talk about the final act because it’s full of surprises that I don’t even want to hint at – discover them for yourself. 

There are a couple of issues included that are non-sequiturs like Batman Inc #11 which is a Batman of Japan issue written by Chris Burnham and drawn by Jorge Lucas, and the Batman Inc Special which features the various members of Batman Inc in multiple short stories. The #11 issue was created partly because it enabled Burnham the time to draw every page in the final two issues – Jason Masters was the able fill-in artist for several issues in this arc – and partly because there’d be nowhere else to feature Jiro stories. This issue shows that Burnham’s not as accomplished a writer as he is an artist, but it’s a fun campy issue that feels Power Rangers-y and pays homage to kitschy Japanese culture. 

The Special, while taking place after the main story ends, isn’t at all related to it and shouldn’t be read as a coda but more of an extra for the fans. It features a number of standalone stories, my favourite of which is the silent Batcow issue because it’s so funny and who doesn’t love Batcow? I feel that, after Damian, he’s the breakout character in Morrison’s run (seriously!). Whatever, more Batcow please! 

Gotham’s Most Wanted is an amazing story written beautifully by Morrison and drawn unbelievably well by Chris Burnham. This is a terrific finale to the story and an incredible way to end Morrison’s run. This is Morrison bowing out big style. It’s simply one of the best books of the year and one of the finest Batman books ever written. Thank you for writing Batman, Grant Morrison.

Is Damian really dead? Is Leviathan? Or Batman Inc.? 

Moo! 

*

Of all the comics I’ve written about this year, I think this Batman Inc. series is the one I’ve written about the most, and was certainly one of the most enjoyable to write about. This review would be ridiculously long if I wrote about everything I loved about this book, so I’ll instead include links to reviews I wrote for another site on the individual issues as they came out, which you can read if you want to read more about me evangelizing about Batman Inc.! 

Batman Inc. Vol. 1 Review

Batman Inc. #9

Batman Inc. #10

Batman Inc. #12

Batman Inc. #13

Batman Inc. Special #1

Batman Incorporated Volume 2: Gotham's Most Wanted

Fire by Brian Michael Bendis Review


Who knew Bendis was an artist as well as a writer? Bendis’ first comic, Fire, is both written and drawn by him and the black and white artwork actually isn’t bad. It’s not great by any stretch either but I’m surprised that he started out drawing comics as I’ve only known him as a hugely popular Marvel comics writer. 

Fire is rightfully little known because it’s really bad. An ordinary guy is recruited by the CIA on some hare-brained scheme to turn random civilians into James Bond superspies. The guy spends a couple of years being trained up, decides the spy life isn’t for him, escapes execution by the agency or something, yadda yadda yadda, the end. It isn’t worth detailing the feeble plot because, as anyone who’s read Bendis before knows, plot isn’t the guy’s strong suit. It’s interesting to see that right from the start you can see the kind of writer he’ll become – strong on dialogue and character interaction, utterly incapable of producing a paced story or coherent plot. 

Bendis’ characters are in love with nattering to each other but rarely say anything worth reading. The main character is the dullest man alive and is the reason why ordinary people are ordinary and James Bond is Bond, plus the whole transformation thing is totally unconvincing. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on with the guy going from Japan to France to England on “covert ops” for no real reason. There is no story so the character’s movements are totally arbitrary and uninvolving. Fire is definitely the worst spy thriller I’ve ever read. 

Art-wise, Bendis is capable but no great shakes. Some scenes look like he’s emulating Frank Miller’s Sin City books though doesn’t successfully pull off the light and shadow effect. Other times it just looks like the most forgettable comic book art with crazy panel arrangements for action scenes that confuse rather than excite. Often he’ll simply draw a silhouette and slap on a massive block of page-length text so it’s like you’re reading an illustrated novel, showing where Bendis’ strengths lie. 

Bendis is a decent writer though that is something he becomes after a few years in the comics biz – here, with his first comic? He’s not very good at all. You can see the seeds of a good writer within but very little actual good writing, and it’s a good thing he left the art up to more talented artists. Fire is definitely one of Bendis’ most forgettable books and a complete mess of a spy story.

Fire

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Mars Attacks Judge Dredd Review (Al Ewing, John McCrea)


I swear I’m not doing this on purpose - but this is yet another Dredd comic that blows!


I read 2000AD, and it’s many incarnations, religiously as a teen but gave up on it sometime around 16/17 and only returned to the character in the last year or so (I’m 29). But after reading 2000AD for 4 months, I realised the publication is terrible - the format of four or five pages per story and then packing five or six stories into an issue is so stupid, and the stories themselves are uniformly awful! The Judge Dredd Megazine is boring, as is the Judge Dredd: Year One book, and the other new IDW Dredd comics - I don’t know what it is, maybe the character was never good and my young, inexperienced self just had nothing to compare it to, but I’ve now given up on 2000AD and any comic Dredd’s in because it’s too disappointing for me. Mars Attacks Judge Dredd was the final nail in the coffin.


This book is (and I use the term very loosely) notable for being the first Dredd crossover with a non-2000AD franchise in over a decade, and the idea of the whacky Mars Attacks aliens fighting Dredd appealed to me. I didn’t know much about the story beyond those two franchises colliding, but you don’t really need to, right? Having read it, I can say that you definitely need to, because the story is about Dredd and Mars Attacks but also heavily features an array of cartoon mafia figures too. In other words, characters you don’t want to read about.


There’s a chimp mob boss called Apelino, another one called Mumbletti who mumbles, and another one with his finger perpetually up his nose - I forget his name but it’s probably Nostriletti or something equally dumb. It sounds funny, and initially it is, but for four issues? Boy, it wears thin fast! This cast are just equal parts annoying and corny and they’re a huge part of the story.


Dredd meanwhile behaves like Dredd, taking on monsters with his arsenal alongside, of course, PSI Judge Anderson, a psychic judge, with predictable results. The Mars Attacks aliens vapourise people left and right until Dredd kills a few and they all run off back to Mars. The plot of this book is just soooooooo boring! It must’ve taken Ewing the length of his elevator pitch to come up with as it did to say.

That’s all there is to this book: terrible boring story, awful characters, bad joke after bad joke, and John McCrea’s art - sorry, I’ve never been a McCrea fan. Whatever my feelings about the character might’ve been, I’ve definitely outgrown Dredd at this point in my life. Mars Attacks Judge Dredd: it sounds fun, but it’s non-stop tedium, like buying sweets and expecting sugary sweetness and then chomping down onto mouldy cardboard instead.

Mars Attacks Judge Dredd

Buzzkill Review (Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw)


As a teenager, Francis discovers that he gets superpowers when he uses drugs and alcohol. Later, having been a superhero for many years, Francis is now a drug addict and alcoholic, and he no longer wants to be a superhero as the booze and drugs have ruined his regular life, isolating him from his friends and family. The problem with getting sober is that he’s now de-powered and vulnerable for the first time ever - and all of the supervillains he’s put away over the years want their revenge…


Buzzkill amazingly manages to find an unexplored angle to the superhero story - the problem is that it coasts on it for the entirety of its four issue run. It’s an original approach to discussing the seriousness of abusing drugs and alcohol, and the effects of addiction, it’s just that if you’ve read any stories about people who become drug addicts/alcoholics, many aspects of the comic will be familiar to you. Francis goes to AA meetings, he goes through the 12 steps, he gets a kooky sponsor, he tries to change his life, he tries to get his girlfriend back - it’s all stuff that’s been done a million times before. That it’s done by a guy who’s a former superhero is the only interesting part of this, unfortunately it doesn’t add anything to it.  


The premise of Francis getting superpowers from substances does seem fresh and exciting initially (though you might think Hancock or Asterix did something similar), but Francis’ superhero identity is never really explored all that much. He’s kind of like Superman in that he has super-strength, invulnerability, flight etc., and we do get scenes with Francis becoming the superhero to defend himself at certain points in the story, but his superhero self isn’t very compelling to read. Like the hippy Doctor Strange character - Doctor Blaqk - he’s a derivative creation but the writer Donny Cates doesn’t have much to say about him, other than it’s dangerous having a god-like being who’s wasted flying about the place. I know Francis’ superhero side isn’t the point and that Francis’ real self is important, it’s just Francis’ ordinary self is doing the aforementioned cliched things all addicts do in recovery, making for a rather dull story.


Without giving too much away, the conclusion is the cliched good vs bad fight though it is an interesting spin on another overused narrative trope. I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to end but the execution felt sloppy with certain scenes in the final issue remaining either deliberately or mistakenly difficult to understand, despite multiple readings. I was sure about Francis’ fate though - the title is a giveaway - and I applaud the creative team’s choice to not provide the easy out, especially as this book has (at least as much as you can in a superhero comic) dealt with the reality of addiction.

Cates and co. obviously put a lot of effort into their book with the dozens of superheroes and villains included - that you’ll never remember - each given their own name and look, and Geoff Shaw’s art is really great (to give you an idea, it’s similar to Sean Gordon Murphy’s). Buzzkill is a fine debut book that shows the team’s potential for future comics, and kudos to Dark Horse for putting out this original concept comic, but it definitely has its flaws. Still, it’s certainly worth a look for superhero fans wanting to read a different take on the genre. 

Buzzkill

Saturday, 21 December 2013

X-Men Legacy, Volume 1: Prodigal Review (Simon Spurrier, Tan Eng Huat)


David Haller aka Legion is Professor X's long lost son. He's also enormously dull to read which is why they called this X-Men: Legacy rather than Legion.

So Legion is, like the biblical Legion, possessed of hundreds of beings in his mind. David - who's Scottish for some reason - has been spending years at a spiritual retreat trying to use Eastern mysticism to control his demons, somewhat successfully. Then something happens, the retreat is destroyed and Legion is thrown back into the superhero world, whether he wants to or not. Reconciling himself with his father's most recent death in AVX (Xavier's died about seven times so far!), David tries to reclaim his life and help what other lost souls he can.

I hated this book. This is the worst Marvel NOW! title I've read so far and the relaunch has had it's share of stinkers. It's not so much Legion I dislike but Simon Spurrier's writing. He can't make me care about anybody in this book and has no ability to fashion a compelling character out of Legion. That may be because Legion is a bad character to begin with - I'm not sure, this is my first time reading about him - but Spurrier in no way makes the case for why he should have his own series. He's crazy with multiple psychic powers, he wears only orange pyjama bottoms and has troll hair - so what?

Legion's supposedly super-powerful but struggles to defeat a pair of pre-pubescent kids (the villains of the book)! Seeing Legion fighting the various entities in his head gets old really fast but we're constantly shown these scenes regardless - we know he'll always win against them, and he does, so it's hardly worth showing as it's not at all interesting.

I couldn't tell you what the story of this book is, even after reading the book - Legion wanders about, fights things, the end. Spurrier's story is completely unfocused and, as we don't know what the point of it all is, totally uninvolving. I also don't care that Xavier wasn't a good dad and sent his son away for years. Xavier was a very drab character himself and the longer they keep up with his death, the better (though it seems he's unfortunately due for another comeback soon - probably so he can die again).

One last thing about the writing - in Marvel's main line of books, they censor swearing with the usual comic book "!%$#" stuff. It can be funny to see every once in a while. But this book has Legion constantly swearing which means we constantly have to read "!%$#" which becomes seriously annoying. If you can't swear in this book, Spurrier, just don't bother, ok? This isn't Marvel MAX where they publish swear-words so it's ok to write them, but this isn't MAX, the swear words don't get printed, and it's irritating as hell to see you try to be badass in a book that won't even print "ass"!

This is a terrible comic! Simon Spurrier sucks. X-Men Legacy is THE worst Marvel NOW! series.

X-Men Legacy - Volume 1: Prodigal

Iron Man, Volume 2: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark, Book 1 Review (Kieron Gillen, Greg Land)


With a new Iron Man armour, a new AI - PEPPER - and a new sense of dissatisfaction following the realisation of mankind’s potential and how far they are from achieving it, Tony Stark has left Earth behind and headed out into the cosmos. In this book, Tony faces an alien court of justice following the death of the Phoenix Force, and then learns some shocking truths about his parentage.


Kieron Gillen’s first Iron Man book was very tedious as each issue showed Tony trying out a new armour. This episodic structure led to a very disjointed reading experience. And then there was Greg Land’s artwork… Land might be the worst artist working at Marvel today. He made Tony look Mongolian for goodness sake! He’s still here though.


The second book is less choppy but unfortunately no better. The first story arc - Godkiller (in no way related to the Jason Aaron Thor/ God Butcher storyline, but what is it about killing gods at Marvel?!) - has a distinctly Star Wars flavour to it. Tony’s first in an alien bar hitting on an alien princess, then gets arrested for killing the Phoenix (see Avengers Vs X-Men - or don’t, it was terrible! And it wasn’t even Tony who did the deed, it was Scarlet Witch and Hope!). He has to fight a series of alien gladiators in an extended Luke Skywalker/Rancor sequence that isn’t in any way as exciting as the Return of the Jedi scene. And then there’s Greg Land’s art, which hasn’t improved either.


The second story arc is more promising, if only for Dale Eaglesham taking over the art. Tony is hot on the trail of evil genocidal robot 451 who reveals to him a deal he made years ago with his dad, Howard Stark. 451 is actually a pretty good villain who doesn’t follow the usual bad guy features of menacing appearance and constant evil rhetoric. He kills literally hundreds of thousands yet seems somewhat sympathetic - an amazing feat from Gillen.


The story itself, the first part of The Secret Origin of Tony Stark? Not so good. It’s basically Ocean’s 11 but way more rushed and barely interesting. Back in the 60s, Howard Stark assembles a team to rip off a Vegas casino run by Greys (the quintessential alien template). Another movie reference stuck out in the character of the alien Rollo, who betrays his fellow Greys and looks/acts/talks just like Fredo in The Godfather!

So that’s the second volume of Gillen’s Iron Man: derivative and uninspired. He riffed on a number of popular movie plots and characters that didn’t work well here and fashioned an altogether forgettable and boring book. Check out Gillen’s sublime Young Avengers to see why this dude keeps getting work. 

Iron Man - Volume 2: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark - Book 1