Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/9/14

round upLook, there are a lot of comics out there. Too many. We can never hope to have in-depth conversations about all of them. But, we sure can round up some of the more noteworthy titles we didn’t get around to from the week. Today, Patrick, Shelby and Drew discuss All-New Ultimates 1, Superior Foes of Spider-Man 11, All-New Ghost Rider 2, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon 1, Shutter 1, Green Lantern Corps 30, and Astro City 11.

slim-banner4Patrick: We start our round-up in that most peculiar corner of the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate corner. All-New Ultimates 1 introduces the titular team — now comprised of Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Cloak and Dagger and Bombshell — as they try to reclaim their claim in a post-Cataclysm New York City. Without S.H.I.E.L.D. to support them, or anyone with any managerial experience, it looks like the series is positioned to explore the way groups of teenagers function without central leadership. And while that’s sorta interesting, so much of it happens in costume, the only exception to that is a single scene between Jessica and Kitty Pryde (on whose couch Jessica is crashing). The first mission the Ultimates take on is investigating a new gang that’s selling a new drug on the streets. It’s a painfully generic story, and one that our heroes are only privy to because Miles’ best friend was jumped by the gang. I get that both drugs and gangs are shortcuts to crime, and therefore shortcuts to crime fighting, but in the wake of the End of the World, it feels like particularly weak sauce. Michael Fiffe also has the incomprehensible habit of making his characters interrupt themselves, so it becomes common place for any one of them to stop mid-sentence, throw out some ellipsis, and then start a new sentence. I don’t know if he’s chasing verisimilitude, but it only serves to damage the clarity of the piece.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man 11 continues the rather baffling trend of ignoring the present-day adventures of its main cast to present a Super Villains Anonymous meeting. This time, we get two stories, but neither is told from the perspective of characters we’ve been following — and I’ll even admit to not even knowing that Super-Man has rogues named The Grizzly or The Looter in his gallery. The common thread between the stories seems to be that these super criminals — D-List though they may be — are too terrified of “the new” Spider-Man to go out and raise the kind of chaos they used to. I guess that means Otto was doing a pretty good job? The stories here are sorta cute, particularly The Grizzly’s one night of robbing a guy, followed by hours of apologizing to him and still getting strung up by the Super Spider-Man. Looter’s story is way too ambitious, and tries to take us on a cross-country search for a better version of the villain. Nuno Plati, who pencils the second story injects the issue with some much needed energy, with swooping layouts that mimic Spider-Man’s trademark method of travel, but the story itself is just too free of specifics to mean anything. Just about every punch-em-up takes place in a non-discript blue location. Not the most immersive comic on the shelf.

Shelby has been demanding that I pick up All-New Ghost Rider for the art alone. Certainly, no one draws characters like Tradd Moore, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen fire and effects given such weight in a comic book before. Shelbs, I’ll let you dig into issue #2 specifically.

Shelby: have been demanding Patrick read this book for the art, and for good reason.

ghost riderDespite the incredibly sharp angles of Moore’s Ghost Rider and his smokin’ chariot , the characters themselves are very fluid. Their limbs look almost rubbery, and I mean that as a compliment; I’ve never seen a book that looks like this. That fluidity leads to a lot of expressive moments, and between those fluid angles (I know it doesn’t make sense, just trust me on this one) and Val Staples glowing colors, I would read this book if the story were crap. Which it isn’t! Felipe Smith’s Robbie Reyes is still trying to figure out what’s happening to him when he gets in this car. Meanwhile, a certain Dr. Jekyll is missing some pills which aren’t roofies, like the drug dealer who owns the car with the contraband thinks. While a part of me wishes every girl who got roofied would turn into a raging monster and beat the hell out of the guys who drugged her, I can see how this sort of thing would cause problems. I think Smith’s choice to reinvent the Spirit of Vengeance was a smart one; a good kid trying to get his disabled kid brother out of East LA while avoiding gangs is a lot more relateable than a stunt motorcyclist making a deal with the devil.

Speaking of amazing art, Iron Fist: The Living Weapon 1 knocked me on my ass as well. Daniel Rand tries to find some sort of passion in his life, but the only joy he gets is from punching ninjas as they rain from the sky. Unfortunately, some sort of giant, zombie, cyborg ninja is intent on tearing apart his ladyfriend of the evening unless Danny reveals the location of “the girl;” a tiny Eskimo-like child, who came to tell Danny he needed to come back to K’un Lun, the mystery city where he chose death over life and became the Iron Fist. Shortly after delivering her message, the girl succumbs to the 4 arrows in her back, and Danny knows he needs to head home. I love Danny’s cold reactions to the world around him. He’s trying so hard to enjoy the world like a regular person, but it’s all just hollow motions. Kaare Kyle Andrews both wrote and drew the book, and he perfectly captures the bleak emptiness Danny feels.

iron fistAndrew’s art style is a mashup of Andrea Sorrentino and Frank Miller, and it perfectly suits the tone of the story, which somehow manages to be both alarmingly cold and shockingly explosive. Iron Fist is a wholly new character for me, and with just one issue I’m already completely won over.

Drew: Me too, much to my surprise. Iron Fist has long been my go-to when talking about lame superheroes, but this issue is anything but. I’m glad you mentioned Miller — both the rawness of the art and the hard-boiled uber-machismo of the writing capture his signature tone in the best ways. I know that sounds like the makings of a tired retread, but it actually transcends the inspiration, delivering passages that are both more expressive and more experimental than Miller. This is aided by Andrew’s jaw-dropping color work, which ranges from traditional to more modern techniques, and pulls in textures as disperate as crumpled paper and watercolors.

Offering experimentation of a very different kind, Joe Keatinge’s Shutter 1 opens up a bizarre world where seemingly anything is possible. Perhaps too many things, actually. We get the barest hints of what Kate Kristopher’s abilities are and what she uses them for, but just as she’s about to dig in to the nitty gritty, she’s suddenly attacked by ghost ninjas. It feels about as random as it sounds. It’s not entirely clear what happens, but the fight brings her to a robotic Mr. Monopoly, who reveals that she actually has siblings who probably also have her abilities, and are maybe dangerous. We don’t get quite enough of her back story to fully understand what any of this means, but Keatinge (and artist Leila del Duca) craft an intriguing world of adventure leading up to the reveal that I’m more than willing to return — I just hope faceless baddies appearing out of nowhere just to goose the action doesn’t become the norm for this series.

Green Lantern Corps 30 serves as the secret history of the Durlans, and it’s a doozy. Van Jensen cleverly intercuts the history lesson with the rounding-up of all the Durlans remaining in hiding on Mogo, making for a surprisingly cohesive emotional arc. Art duties are divided between the present day and the Durlan’s origins, with Chris Batista tackling the action on Mogo, and Scott Kolins delivering storybook-like art for the historical portions. It’s a smart issue, and adds some much-needed context for the growing conflict between the Durlans and the Lanterns — perhaps one of the best (and most important) GLCs since the relaunch. Were you as pleased with this as I was, Patrick?

Patrick: I love getting a little context that both clarifies the villains’ position and muddy’s the heroes’ morality… even if it only does the latter a little bit. John seems to take the Green Lanterns’ role in the Durlans’ Six Minute War personally, but the idea that the Corps perpetrated some awful, awful shit is pretty well-worn by this point. I guess it’s a nice reminder that, even though readers might be willing to separate the GLC into pre- and post-Guardians eras, a lot of that personnel carries over between eras. John, Hal and Guy may not have been part of the Corps during the attack on Durlan, but they certainly did take part in other fascist plots to control the universe.

Anyway, John will get over that — he’s got to: the Ancients now have cool robot bodies. It’s only been a few months, but these baddies have been properly seeded in the last couple issues of both this and Green Lantern, to the point that I’m actually kind of excited to see what they can do. Plus, what’s grosser that a sentient pit of snakes? That sentient pit standing up like a man and trying to punch you!

That’s most like the riddle posed in Astro City 11: “What’s more stressful than being a superhero? Being a superhero’s assistant.” The issue follows Raitha, executive assistant to the greatest mage in the contiguous world, the Silver Adept. I’m not totally sure how this story reads to everyone else, but I currently work as the administrator at an interior plant business — and know next to nothing about plants — so it felt like this issue was speaking to me directly. Raitha gets overwhelmed by magical problems and has to rely on her ability to make the right phone calls, check the right databases and keep all the appointments straight. It’s a day-in-the-life story of another civilian of Astro City, and that’s always where this series shines. Busiek is a deft hand at combing the ultra-crazy and the hyper-mundane for laughs. Series artist Brent Anderson is also great at picking up those cues and running with them – first it’s the domesticated Minotaur wearing a flannel shirt, and then there’s Raitha’s desk.

Raitha's desk

Ever office detail has a delightfully strange magical counter part. Busiek and Anderson’s commitment to making this story both alien and accessible pays off hugely. I’m happy to have Astro City back to form.

slim-banner4The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

10 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 4/9/14

  1. I can’t find my list of what I bought this week, so I’ll only comment on our communal story reading.

    Astro City 11: This story left me asking myself the question: How many super heroes does this city have and is there ever going to be a dedicated book about one of them. I can’t imagine a book called, “Marvel’s New York,” and once in a while we got to see the Avengers or Spider-Man or Daredevil or Iron Fist or whoever. I know this is Busiek’s baby, but I want more of it. I feel like I just get a taste of someone and then its gone and meant to be forgotten. Example: That guy about 7 issues ago who was going to con the alien invader but didn’t and settled for having enough as it was. . . is that still happening? I want more!

    All New Ultimates 1: This kind of stunk. Nothing about it screamed Ultimates or Spider-Man or Ultimate Universe or “LAST WEEK A GIANT PURPLE DUDE ATE NEW JERSEY AND MOST OF EARTH’S HEROES BIT THE BIG ONE!!!” It was very street level for everything that just had happened. Very. It would have been street level for the Punisher. I didn’t love the art, either. Actually, I loved a few pages and thought others were unfinished. The page with Miles crawling upside down in the old church while talking to Cloak and Dagger and others: Awesome. The rest, inconsistent.

    Superior Foes: I missed this also. How didn’t I buy this? I’m probably going to skip it. I don’t need to be a completionist for a comic that currently seems intent on NOT telling me the story they’d been setting up for six months.

    • Yeah, I don’t really understand why Soupy Foes is being so weird right now. I guess maybe they’re approaching the end of the story and just wanted to get a few more one-offs in before the whole Superior thing crashes in on itself. I was looking ahead for solicits, but could only find the next issue solicited, and no mention of whether or not it’s the last issue. It’s weird that the series should be tied to Otto at all… OH MY GOD – that ends today, doesn’t it? I’MMA BE RIGHT BACK.

    • I actually feel the complete opposite about Astro City, Kaif. The best issues, to me, have been the ones like this one; give us a charming, simple story about the people who have to life “normal” lives in and amongst the world of fantastic heroes and villains. Whenever the book hits shifts its point of view to the actual heroes or picks up its ongoing thread about that door and the weird 4th-wall breaking guy and stuff it loses a little of its charm.

      • I enjoyed this issue. I just feel like in many of these I’m going to a restaurant, ordering, and then only getting one bite of an appetizer and being told – you can come back next week for a bite of a different appetizer. That’s how we do it here!

        Even if that bite is delicious, we’re used to full meals. Even if the Winged Victory meal was seasoned a little strongly.

        I mean, this analogy ended up better than the Winged Victory arc. So, I’m admitting that the one major storyline that lasted multiple issues were probably the worst 4 issues of this 11 issue series so far and I’m asking for more.

        Maybe I’m an idiot. But I want the next chapter in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I want to know about the bees. Busiek has handled long arc storytelling in other titles.

  2. Loved the art on Iron Fist but the writing and tone was trying way too hard to be 80s Frank Miller with none of the raw viciousness or powerful noir verve. I’m not going to pick up another issue.

    • Interesting. If anything, I thought it was TOO Miller-y. I can see being put off by that, too, but I thought it was great. For all of the “grimness” that still pervades comics, it was fun to see someone do hardboiled right again.

  3. I thought Shutter was absolutely charming, but unfortunately unclear–not just in the sense that it’s creating a mystery, but in that even the things I think it’s supposed to be presenting as fact feel a little muddled. That twist was more jarring than surprising–an important distinction.

    • My thoughts exactly. There are clearly some interesting ideas there, but the issue doesn’t convey them particularly well. I’m hoping that’s more the result of compression than anything (we needed to get to that cliffhanger before the end of the issue!), but I think it will be pretty easy to tell after the second issue.

  4. Does anybody remember the collective thrashing that we all doled out to the artwork in those earliest Phantom Stranger issues? For those who are now familiarized with Brent Anderson’s style via a first foray into reading Astro City I think you might agree that he is a highly serviceable artist in the classic comics style and that trying to use Philip Tan as an inker was the real problem. It was like Tan was trying to take Anderson art made in a very Anderson retro style and completely restyle it into Tan’s distinct style through some crazily over zealous inking.

    • In fact, looking back at Phantom Stranger 0 (where he had a standard inker, before the Tan arrangement) I remember fully geeking out at the big spread with the first New 52 appearance of The Spectre. I don’t know how much of my love for Astro City I’m bringing in to that but I still think the art works great in that one issue.

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