Sunday, 20 October 2013

Issue #35: Love In The Clouds.

I got the updated Comixology recently.  Not that exciting really.  It doesn’t do much new that I’ve noticed, just has things shuffled around a bit.  I used to have to restart when redeeming codes for the Marvel version of the app before they would appear for purchase, and that seems to be fixed with purchases now appearing instantaneously so that’s a plus.  However, I noted in a recent Comixology survey that some titles in my digital collection are out of numerical order somehow, and a simple tap-and-drag feature would be a cool addition.  Not this time unfortunately.

Villains Month is well and truly over but I vowed to review them all, so here we are.  Sorry if it seems old news to you.  I sent a confusing tweet out that blamed car trouble.  What I meant was that without a car I couldn’t pick up my comics, hence the delay.  That, and my new job has eaten into my downtime pretty heavily.

I’m sticking to the format, so here we have all the titles that made up week 3 of Villains Month, plus one new book this week.  Week 3’s best villain was very nearly The Rogues, but I’ve decided to award Villain Of The Week to….


Read what the hell is so good about H'el below!

Swamp Thing #23.1  Arcane #1   Your payoff for this issue will likely depend on your own level of investment in Swamp Thing, which isn’t much for me because I kicked this title a while back, but it is nice to see one of these not afraid to use characters away from the Justice League.  The opening is great, with Anton Arcane trapped in a hell made just for him; Anton craves the rot, so his hell is a lush meadow on a sunny day surrounded by fluffy bunnies where nothing can die, littered with corpses of himself from all of his attempts to commit suicide.  Great so far, until Abigail turns up seeking the truth about her family background, which may or may not be true, and I guess the non-regular Swamp Thing reader gets a little lost.  The beautiful thin line artwork of Jesus Saiz is a definite plus.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  At first glance this one seems only okay, but I’m giving it extra points because there’s an excellent effect on Arcane’s face when you look closer; the lines of his facial features sit above the flesh tones underneath in a way that makes the character’s face seem semi-transparent and it’s quite impressive.  That, and the fact that the other covers often have a generic, re-used image of their respective hero in the background, and this is Swamp Thing’s only Villains Month issue thus his only cover appearance, making this one a little more unique.

Green Lantern #23.3  Black Hand #1  I’ve always had an interest in the Black Lantern stuff but I’ve never got around to reading any of it, so this issue served me pretty well as an introduction.  The book begins with two workers cremating William Hand and dumping the ashes outside.  The black ring descends and resurrects him immediately and a amnesiac Hand wanders the night zombifying pretty much anything that crosses is path as his memories return.  Finally finding Martin Jordan’s grave, he chats with Hal’s dead dad and swaps hands with him (which I didn’t quite get – more reading required?) and resumes being Black Hand.  The art for this issue steps away from the vibrant fancy style I would expect from a Lantern book, instead opting for the sort of stuff you get in DC’s more horror-oriented titles, which is fitting given the theme, but it didn’t quite win me over.  A not bad one-shot which again made me question whether ignoring Green Lantern in the New 52 has been a wise move.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  Usually the darker toned covers have not had the impact to work so well, but this one’s a beaut.  All the depth is just right and the artwork looks great.

Wonder Woman #23.1  Cheetah #1   Following the Belle Reve breakout in Forever Evil, US Marshal Mark Shaw is tasked with tracking down and arresting Cheetah.  He heads to a cult compound where she was raised, a group of women who worship the goddess of the hunt (I guess that would be Diana?) and where no men exist, a skewed take on the Amazons.  Here some backstory is fleshed out for Cheetah before the cult turn on Shaw and begin hunting him.  Functional artwork and story serve this not-bad-but-nothing-special one-shot.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  The plain blue background seems rushed, and the fallen pillar at the bottom is difficult to focus on to the point where my keyboard is crawling as I type this, having stared at it for twenty seconds.  Still, that blood trail runs from background to foreground and looks excellent.

The Dark Knight #23.3  Clayface #1   It occurred to me while reading this that I’ve never read a Clayface story before, and I was left with the impression that while Basil Karlo thinks he’s smart and should be in charge, he’s really just a dumb brute that is destined to make shitty decisions.  The book opens with Clayface and a small gang of crooks using the sewers to get access for a bank job, but a small argument with one of the guys prompts Clayface to kill all of them.  Clayface emerges in Gotham to learn of the Secret Society, and embarks on a mission to win favour with them, only to have his plan literally blow up in his face.  The story ends with a loop of sorts as he buddies up with a new crew, mentally reassuring himself that he should be in charge, and no lessons sinking in at all.  Because of this it’s actually a very unfulfilling tale, and I’m left thinking that the opportunity to coax the reader to embrace the bad guy makes for better story telling rather than just let the character be a complete dick.

Lenticular cover rating: 1/5.  This cover must be moved around to focus Clayface’s arms and never works from a single angle.  That girder in the background is also a serious offender.  Boo.

Teen Titans #23.2  Deathstroke #1   There must have been an uneasy moment from at least someone on the DC staff when they decided to splash “Deathstroke #1” across the cover of this issue, given that Deathstroke’s own book was cancelled earlier this year.  It’s also odd because while Deathstroke is hardly a hero, I wouldn’t quite qualify him as villain material either – Slade just goes where the money is, and as outlined here, he has his own – and hardly sinister – motivations for doing this.  All the boxes are ticked for fans of Deathstroke and Team 7 in this one, with flashbacks and horrible violence aplenty, and we finally see Slade lose his eye in the New 52.  I liked this one a lot based purely on my affection for the character, and while I doubt DC would bring back any cancelled 52 books any time soon, Deathstroke would be second on my personal wishlist after Resurrection Man.  Moritat’s artwork doesn’t really grab me here, and he’s probably better suited to All Star Western where his skills really shine.

Lenticular cover rating: 2/5.  Nice fire in the background, but it’s not the best picture of Slade, and the foreground sword doesn’t focus well.  Ow, my retinas.

Justice League #23.3  Dial E #1   Another spin off from a cancelled book, instead of Dial H we get the bizarre choice of Justice League branding.  What I read of Dial H was great fun and it’s on the list of stuff to chase up digitally.  Perhaps if I had done so sooner this issue would make a little more sense but I had enough grounding in how the dial works to make some sense of it.  A small group of kids get their hands on the (or another?) dial and do what pretty much any kid would do: dial it every three seconds and turn into a new and strange creature each time.  This makes for a comical, chaotic and pacy one-shot where you’ll be scratching your head one moment and giggling the next.  There’s so many weird and wonderful creations crammed in to this story it’s almost exhausting, which is exactly what China Mieville has gone for and it’s great.  I only wish I knew more.  It’s confusing on it’s own, but rather than intimidate you it instead invites you in to it’s world and plays on your curiosity to read what you’ve been missing.  Very nicely played.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  The effect of the candy in the foreground slightly misses the mark in the focus department, and I’m not even sure who that woman is supposed to be there, but extra points for the Mad Magazine style names on all those packets.

Justice League Dark #23.2  Eclipso #1   I first bumped in to Eclipso when his Black Diamond Probability crossover bled in to Team 7, and this issue references that crossover in a two page spread halfway through.  Here, a fallen genius, down on his luck, receives the black diamond by courier (but from where?) and is tempted and tricked by Eclipso, who is trapped within the gem, to be released.  This story is your regular ancient trickster / temptation tale with not too much originality.  It makes for a pretty average one-shot but I do get the sense that DC intend to use Eclipso either heavily, or in something big in the next twelve months.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  Nice depth effect, great use of foreground with the flails of dark energy from the gem, and an excellent blue tunnel of light as a background.  This one is a winner.

Superman #23.3  H’el #1  Ever since the conclusion of the H’el On Earth crossover a while back I’ve been looking forward to the continuation of this character’s story.  H’el is comatose on Krypton, being studied by a Jor-El ten years younger than when they last knew one another.  H’el is conscious though and free to move about and observe in a kind of telekinetic spirit form.  His very presence is creating a paradox and as his memories become inconsistent with his surroundings the reader wonders if this is the same universe H’el left, a theory further accelerated when H’el regains conciousness and proceeds to kill Zod, then snap Jor-El’s neck.  How?  What?  My brain!  The story possibilities that can stem from this issue could be potentially massive, very exciting for a Superman fan, and manage to skate around the Forever Evil stuff that so many of these other titles are required to depend on.  H’el is becoming my favourite Superman villain and however all this eventually resolves itself is going to be a lot of fun.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  Not a bad one, it just doesn’t go as deep as some of them, and it really should have the way H’el hands are aimed straight at you.  Background Superman is poorly focussed.

Action Comics #23.3  Lex Luthor #1   There’s a clear reason why Lex Luthor is the true arch enemy of Superman; he’s a polar opposite in that Lex is a giant, monumental arsehole.  This issue serves well as an introduction to Lex, because in one day he manages to take full advantage of the absence of Superman by killing a team of astronauts in space to make a point that Superman is unable to save them, killing his assistant for not being on board with the plan, and ruining a corporate rival, who he er…. also kills.  Lex is such a confident power hungry douche, but it just works for me, and he’s been laying reasonably low in the New 52, so it’s nice to see him crack his knuckles and get back out again.

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  Pretty good, but all that green energy stuff might have been a little ambitious.  Whether it’s supposed to be all blurry and unfocussed around the title or not is unclear.

Batman #23.3  The Penguin #1   Like Lex, this book shows are character in comeback mode.  The Penguin was usurped by Emperor Penguin until he was dealt with, and with Gotham without it’s Batman, Cobblepot makes moves to tighten his grip on his interests, first by killing some blackjack cheats outside his casino, then blackmailing a governor in clean-up mode with the old dead-woman-in-the-hotel-room trick.  The Penguin has a nasty street reputation to regain, and a legitimate businessman’s public perception to maintain, and that’s pretty much the point of this story.  A nice issue that highlights the underbelly of Gotham pretty well.

Lenticular cover rating: 2/5.  A not too impressive picture of The Penguin with buildings in the background that ghost a second image instead of nailing the depth effect.  The gun smoke is alright though.

Batman And Robin #23.3  Ra’s Al Ghul And The League Of Assassins #1   An emissary of the Secret Society (wearing a knock-off of a Red Robin costume – sorry I have no idea who this is) meets with Ra’s Al Ghul to offer membership.  As they battle, the emissary recounts a few chunks of the history of the League Of Assassins.  Ra’s isn’t impressed though, and defeats his visitor then declines the offer, preferring to stay his own course for world domination.  Not too much on offer here, and I was left thinking Ra’s has an ego that actually serves as his greatest obstacle.  I mean, he’s had over seven hundred years to pull his finger out.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  It’s great, with plenty of layers and all that green fire, and swords jumping off the cover too.

The Flash #23.3  The Rogues #1   This one might be a little too television show for some, but there’s a dramatic theme of family prevalent in this issue that I quite liked.  The Rogues have their own mini series alongside the current Forever Evil event and it looks like this acts as an issue #0 of sorts for that.  The narration of Captain Cold allows the reader to get a little more personal with the character and it’s a real strength.  When his sister Glider seems to lose her astral form in her attempt to rescue Mirror Master from the mirror universe, it serves as a bonding moment for the team on the cusp of breaking up.  They decide to bust Trickster out of prison but do so just as the Secret Society conduct their own mass prison break.  What happens next may inspire The Rogues to be the best weapon against Ultraman’s team.  Solid stuff, and I may just pick up that Rogues mini series after all.

Lenticular cover rating: 4/5.  Maybe a little too much orange going on to get top marks, but the depth of each character’s position is almost 100% spot on, and Cold’s ice spiral is really cool (pun not intended).

Justice League Of America #7.3  Shadow Thief #1   Not bad this.  The whole crazy mix of the shadow powers, espionage, and freaky aliens is the kind of pure comic book pulp I just eat up.  The whole thing is structured in narration during a fall after Aviva is blasted out of a skyscraper hotel window in Dubai and manages to cover the above topics with a little origin stuff thrown in for good measure.  Shadow Thief doesn’t seem particularly evil in spirit, but she more makes a mess of anyone who gets in her way.  I haven’t read the Hawkman stuff that is referenced here, but it looks like Shadow Thief will be making an appearance in JLA soon.  Not bad.

Lenticular cover rating: 5/5.  Thanks to contrasting background colour and what was probably some very careful and attentive work, this cover manages to make a very dark black leap into the foreground.  Excellent.

Detective Comics #23.3  Scarecrow #1   After reading so many of these villain one-shots it’s really refreshing to see the familiar structure being bent a little, and Peter J. Tomasi achieves this here by having Scarecrow walk through various territories of Gotham and holding conversations with several other key enemies of Batman.  The dialogue is great too, particularly during the opening pages as Scarecrow and Mr Freeze exchange pleasantries as several fear gas victims wail in terror around them.  Scarecrow moves on to converse with The Riddler, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy as a kickstarter for the Forever Evil: Arkham War mini series.  Hmmm, should I also buy this too?

Lenticular cover rating: 3/5.  Not a bad one, but the colours are a quite drab, and that foreground raven is a bit too blurry.

Superman / Wonder Woman #1   When Superman and Wonder Woman became lovers in Justice League a while back I wondered if it was going to be a short term gimmick or something DC intended to stick with for a while, and with Superman / Wonder Woman launching last week as a regular title it looks like I have my answer.  First up, I think Tony Daniel draws a top notch Superman, but he also manages to craft a very beautiful and powerful Wonder Woman as well.  There’s plenty of action here, including a battle with a very nasty enemy which I refuse to spoil, but what really did it for me were the panels where Diana speaks to her friend about the shortcomings of her relationship, which really nailed something realistic and likeable.  I picked this up out of blind Superman love, but I will stay on board for the exploration of the personal relationship exhibited here.  Great writing, great artwork, and a hint of great character development.  Well done DC.

Thanks kids.  Week 4 Villains Month reviews will also obviously be late, but I'll get to them asap.

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