Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Issue #33: Infinite villains.

This week I offer thoughts on a whopping fifteen issues, taking a look at the current event number ones from Marvel and DC, then all thirteen issues out this week for DC’s Villains Month.  I got them all with lenticular 3D covers so I hope the scans aren’t too messy.  I’m surprised how they came out actually, much better than I thought.  I’ve added ratings out of five for each of these based on how well the illusion works.  Let’s get on with it, there’s a lot to get through.

Infinity #1   It’s Marvel event time again.  Seemingly not content with stopping at Age Of Ultron (which I didn’t even read because I heard it wasn’t much chop), Marvel’s new opus is upon us.  This issue is the first of a six part series, with additional details featured in issues #18 to #23 of Avengers, and issues #9 to #11 of New Avengers.  The cover price of $4.99US may seem steep but you get 56 pages of content here and you can feel the weight of it.  

Now some of those pages are these quite pretentious and annoying white title pages that say dumb things like “Orbital” and “What Was Hidden, Now Uncovered” for very little reason, and I’m thinking this is bullshit padding, but luckily the book itself is a bit of a looker, and features a just-vague-enough story to put Marvel veterans and newcomers both on reasonably equal footing going in.  I think.  Because Marvel’s spacey stuff is something I’ve pretty much ignored all this time (I’m more likely to tell anyone dipping their toe into Marvel to read something like Civil War), until recently when I gave some Guardians Of The Galaxy from a few years back a bit of a spin last month (and yes, I thought it was pretty cool).  This looks like it’s designed for new readers too, particularly someone who liked the Avengers movie and wanted to see “what this whole comics thing is about”, and I don’t mean that in my usual, eye-rolling sense.  There’s not a lot I can explain about the plot after one issue as what we have here are simply seeds sown for the rest of what will transpire, so rather than dictate the whole comic I’ll give you the gist of it: Thanos is planning to invade Earth with a small mix of alien races as his resources, The Inhumans and particularly Black Bolt look to be important to the story, Cap prepares a space battle while Iron Man prepares Earth, and I’m going to go out on a slightly shaky limb and say that the cross-title thing for this one, because it sticks to just two Avengers books, will be relevant and actually worth a damn. [STOP PRESS! It looks like there's more offshoots to this than I was first aware of!  Buyer beware!]  As DC marks September, the New 52’s second birthday, with an event of their own and a vast collection of one-shots (see below) I’m intrigued by Marvel’s decision to step up in competition with Infinity as their trump card.  Considering they released an Infinity preview on Free Comic Book Day back in May, Marvel has probably timed the release quite deliberately, and that says to me that Marvel must think they’ve got something pretty ace.   I’m a little excited because the whole Marvel-in-space thing is new to me (I think someone just laughed at me from the 80s) so let’s hope it’s a fun ride, and not just another easy trip to the bank for Marvel.

Forever Evil #1   DC’s seven part mini series carries on pretty much directly from their previous event, Trinity War, where it was revealed that Pandora’s Box is a gateway to Earth 3.  Cyborg was torn from his cybernetics to create the evil counterpart Grid, and Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, etc. announce they are in control.  This first issue sees these nasty versions of Earth’s superheroes freeing and rounding up a vast army of villains under the banner of The Secret Society, and announcing to the world that the Justice League is dead.  When we last saw the Justice League they were in a bad way, particularly Cyborg, reduced to a painful pile of flesh, and Superman, with a chunk of Kryptonite lodged in his brain.  If they are indeed all dead, there’s still a tale to tell here, but obviously DC isn’t going to can the books that pay the bills.  As Nightwing is caught off guard, it’s hinted that it may be up to the Teen Titans to defeat this new threat, and Batgirl is warned by Nightwing about trouble before he is captured.  Perhaps we’ll see this series bring together a few second tier heroes to shine, and if it’s done well it could benefit the New 52 in a positive way, even enough to help halt the spate of cancellations we’ve seen in the last two years (that might be optimistic, but if that’s what is being attempted, I think it’s a good thing).  Forever Evil still feels a universe away from Marvel’s event and is all the better for it.  The gap, or lack thereof, between the setup in Trinity War and this issue is welcome too.  Fun times ahead.

Batman #23.1  Joker #1   I picked up the first thirteen villain issues in one hit, but how could I start with anyone else but Joker?  Andy Kubert writes a darkly humourous one-shot set a few years back from current continuity.  The Joker hasn’t yet cut off his face, and while there’s no appearance from Batman, he and Robin are mentioned, and the Bat signal is seen in one panel.  Flashbacks to The Joker’s childhood tell a new origin of sorts, though I like to subscribe to Nolan’s angle that the character’s background changes depending on who he’s telling it to, and that he himself may be too insane not to believe each new story.  If you like crazy, you’ll enjoy this tale of Gotham’s nastiest character reflecting on his childhood as he raises a kidnapped gorilla as his own evil sidekick.  I love the two of them watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre on the couch together.  Nice one.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  The “Ha Ha Ha” is a little blurry, and Batman in the background is tough for the eye to process.  Love the tie flailing in front of the jacket.

Green Arrow 23.1  Count Vertigo #1   The second villain issue I’ve read and already patterns emerge; the neglectful childhood of the character, and the absence beyond offhand mention of the corresponding hero.  I know bugger all about Count Vertigo, but I suspect if I stare at the lenticular version of the cover long enough he could probably explode my head too!  It’s not spelled out for the uninitiated, but I guess Count Vertigo’s implants allow him to disrupt people’s brainwaves, sometimes just enough to subdue them, other times to pop their brains like a watermelon.  The story flashes back to the Count’s younger days as his prostitute mother berates him, and later as he is bullied at his scientifically experimental school.  Then Count Vertigo kills his mum.  I’m not sure what the fuss is about Jeff Lemire.  Can someone suggest something to me that he has written that is awesome?  It’s not that his writing is bad, just functional, and as far as the New 52 goes, he hasn’t written anything that’s jumped out at me to justify his reputation.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  The Count’s raised hand in the foreground doesn’t focus from any angle, but I love the psychedelic background.

Green Lantern #23.1  Relic #1   This issue tells its story almost entirely in narration, and interestingly does away with panels; with the exception of the double splash page on 2 and 3, every page is its own panel.  The book seemingly functions as an issue zero for the Green Lantern event Lights Out which kicks off next month.  There’s almost a theme of environmental debate here, as Relic tries in vain to convince the inhabitants of the universe that existed before ours that light constructs should be used sparingly, and that those that use it (they build everything out of it) are diluting a limited resource.  He is ignored, and eventually the universe folds in on itself as a result.  Relic somehow survives this, and is reborn into this universe with a lot less patience for anyone wearing a light ring.  Not a bad comic, with plenty of colour, and perhaps a Villain Month issue with more to lend to ongoing continuity than just a basic one-shot.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5. A blurry Hal Jordan from any angle barely distracts from a great foreground Relic casting shattered rings at the reader, backed by a great looking fiery planet in space.  Pretty awesome.

Action Comics #23.1  Cyborg Superman #1   Oh man, now we’re talking!  Events in Supergirl have recently involved Cyborg Superman, but other than the character acting all nice to Kara and being secretive behind her back there’s not much villainy going on.  This issue shows how cold and horrible Cy-Supes can be.  Braniac recovers a dying Zor-El, and constructs him in the image of the “superior” Jor-El.  Cyborg Superman then arrives at a planet and begins terrorising the population and forcing some of them to make horrible (almost) Saw-style decisions to do terrible things to each other to prove their “superiority”.  The story is interspersed with scenes that are more or less the fall of Zor-El.  Credit to Mike Hawthorne’s art, that while not the fanciest work, manages to use that in contrast against a Cyborg Superman that looks absolutely menacing in every panel he’s in.  A good one-shot, but excellent character background for current readers of Supergirl.

Lenticular cover rating: 5/5.  The extended claw takes advantage of the 3D effect perfectly, while the green and yellow circuit board, which usually should never go with red and blue, serves to throw Cyborg Superman at the reader even more.

The Flash #23.1  Grodd #1   Wow, Grodd is a fucking jerk.  Just as humans and apes set about building peace after last time Grodd went bananas, back he comes to pretty much be the biggest butthole he can and killing anyone that looks at him sideways.  This issue directly ties in with Forever Evil (no spoilers, but there’s an eclipse), and without Flash around, Grodd makes himself king right away.  And that’s about it.  The story is supposed to lead in to Forever Evil: Rogue’s Rebellion, which I suppose is one of those event off-shoots that I usually ignore (and since the spoiler is in the title I’ll probably ignore this one too).  I suppose an OP nazi monkey is pretty good villain material, but I just wanted The Flash to turn up and deck him.  I guess it ape necessarily so….. (thank you, thank you).

Lenticular cover rating: 1/5.  It’s a shocker.  The foreground seems to be the skulls on sticks, followed by Grodd’s tits, then his face which falls into the blurry no man’s land on the same plane as the heroes on these covers.  Grodd is too Saturday-morning-cartoon-purple too.

Justice League Dark #23.1  The Creeper #1   All this time I’ve spent in the DC universe feels like it pays off in some form of geek currency when a low key bad guy like The Creeper comes along and I know exactly who he is.  I’ve been collecting Katana, and in the third issue Killer Croc bites and breaks her sword, releasing all the souls inside of everyone who has ever been killed by it.  One of those souls is The Creeper, a demon who we learn has been subjugating and tormenting others trapped within the sword for his own amusement.  After his release, The Creeper inhabits the body of Jack Ryder, who has a tv show that follows up on death and disaster…. the very same incidents Jack is unconsciously causing when under the control of The Creeper.  He’s a bastard, and while it’s hardly top tier stuff I found this to be kinda fun.

Lenticular cover rating: 5/5.  The best one yet.  The perspectives for each of the layers seems just right, and the chain across the middle looks excellent.  One freaky cover.

Superman #23.1  Bizarro #1   Oh no!  I get that the New 52 changes things, but whittling Bizarro down from an opposite-Superman from a strange reverse universe to a lab experiment created by Lex Luthor is sacrilege!  Where’s the trippy cube-Earth and the muddled Bizarro speak?  This Hollywood dumbing down is horrible!  And considering Lex has to explode him into a flesh puddle just minutes after his creation, well, this is fucking not Bizarro!  Boo!  Not talking about it anymore!

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  Nice use of the depth on this one too, but unblurry buildings not look unexcellent and not cause unheadache.

Justice League Of America #7.1  Deadshot #1   Ooh, I like this one a lot.  Deadshot’s childhood trauma is similar to Batman here, but with very different consequences.  His family are tragically killed by stray bullets from a mob hit in an adjoining apartment.  A young Deadshot recovers a handgun from the scene and with revenge on his mind, teaches himself to shoot.  Most of this is inner monologue, and as a result of playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution this week, I mentally made Deadshot’s voice that of Elias Toufexis.  I loved how calm and inward the character remains as he prepares for a sniper shot while in free fall after leaping from a plane.  He’s a nasty fucker, but Deadshot is pretty cool.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  Would have scored higher, except there’s a bit too much going on for its own good.  The bullet in the centre doesn’t work at all.

Justice League #23.1  Darkseid #1   I wasn’t much into Darkseid.  Here we get a story where before he was a god himself, Darkseid was known as Uxas, who plows fields and is an atheist despite his gods being titans that turn up every now and then and cause trouble.  Uxas gets a bit pissy with this, and decides to kill them all, gaining powers and strength with each act of deicide.  Then, in a strange fast forwarding of the story, we skip over some details in three panels: Darkseid is about to fight his brother, er…. planet blows up,  “and then… Apokolips”.  Did I miss something?  You bet.  The rest pretty much skips up to the point where the Justice League defeat him, and I was left with a sense that someone wants to tell the story of Darkseid, but not here or now, and that makes this issue pretty pointless.

Lenticular cover rating: 2/5.  Darkseid’s head is slightly offset just enough to make him look like a bobblehead.  The top half of the background is empty, and regurgitated-strawberry-ice-cream pink.

The Dark Knight #23.1  Ventriloquist #1   Set following the events of Forever Evil, this tells the story of Shauna and her telekinetically controlled puppet Ferdie, who put on a murderous ventriloquist act in a lawless Gotham City, while flashing back to Shauna’s disturbed childhood.  A small group of hungry Gothamites are lured into a theatre with promises of food, and watch a second rate comedy show until a bunch of thugs break in to rape and pillage.  Shauna takes offense at the interruption, and Ferdie turns the whole thing into a bloodbath.  I know little of this character but I know of him, so I enjoyed reading this one, but the childhood flashback thing is a theme of Villains Month that’s starting to wear a little thin.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  The background is blurry as hell which is a shame, because the little lynched Bat-family puppets are great.  The foreground of Shauna pushing Ferdie towards the reader looks fantastic.

Earth 2 #15.1  Desaad #1   I confess that when most DC stories pertain to Earth 2 I tune right out.  I have an instant association that nothing important happens in the other universe (I’ve always had an identical attitude towards Marvel’s Ultimate stuff), mostly because the main universe has more than enough going on.  I’ve never heard of Desaad, but he’s a mean bastard just for the sake of it, with the power of suggestion to make people kill themselves and each other.  He’s attempting to build a boom tube to Apokolips (is that Apokolips 2?) so Darkseid (is that Darkseid 2?) can invade Earth 2.  And the whole thing has a give a shit factor of fuck all.  But at least I didn’t have to wade through pages of little Desaad being teased in the playground.

Lenticular cover rating: 2/5.  The depth effect is scattered at best here, as Desaad’s right bicep seems to be the foreground.  His face is difficult to focus on, as is his right hand.  Try not to vomit as your optic nerves attempt to send some kind of image to your brain when you stare at Huntress and Power Girl.

Batman & Robin #23.1  Two Face #1   Again, set during a chaotic downfall of Gotham, the opening events here tie directly into Forever Evil.  Two Face (dramatically standing on top of a lit bat signal) receives his invitational coin to the Secret Society from Scarecrow.  Two Face flips a coin to accept, but makes clear that the rule of the coin takes precedence over any orders from the group.  What follows is a night of gunshots, as Two Face brings his own brand of justice to the Gotham night, only to find himself at odds with the society.  Not a bad one this, Two Face is a pretty good villain to follow around.

Lenticular cover rating: 2/5.  Good idea that lacks execution, with all layers being difficult to focus on.

Detective Comics #23.1  Poison Ivy #1   Reading this one last out of the bunch isn’t going to do this review any favours.  All I can see is the boxes being ticked: Gotham running riot post events of Forever Evil, intermittent flashbacks to a rough childhood, and the rinse-and-repeat that has always followed this character, that Ivy gets loose and starts overgrowing Gotham with plants.  I can’t wait until someone comes along and does something original and surprising with Poison Ivy.  I did like the little stab at the cancellation of Birds Of Prey: “I was even a part of a team.  Until they outgrew their usefulness.”  But until Poison Ivy does something really cool and special, she’ll always be in the shadow of better Bat-villains.  Yawn.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5. A subtle background of falling leaves while the foreground layers do quite a nice job.  Nice one.

Thanks kids.  DC Villains Month continues through September.

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