Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 2/4/15

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Look, 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, Spencer, Drew, Michael, Patrick and Ryan discuss Batman Eternal 44, Detective Comics 39, Action Comics 39, C.O.W.L. 8, American Vampire: Second Cycle 6, Green Lantern 39, Grayson 7, Ant-Man 2, Avengers 41, Wytches 4, Spawn 250, The Woods 10, Operation S.I.N. 2, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 2 and Ms. Marvel 11.

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Spencer: If you asked me what the weakest part of Batman Eternal has been, I would without hesitation answer “the Arkham ghost stuff.” Putting aside my own dislike of supernatural stories (especially in Gotham), there’s also the fact that this plot has simply dragged on too long — and sure, the Nanotech stuff went longer without resolution, but once focus shifted to it the story played out in two or three issues. The Arkham story, meanwhile, has taken up a huge chunk of issues, and every time it seems resolved it pops up again a few issues later and starts all over again. So, I was obviously a bit dismayed when I saw issue 44 again returning to this plotline, but fortunately, the issue has two things going for it. First of all, it seems poised to finally reveal what this plot has actually been about once and for all, but more importantly, it also plays out as a rather tense and satisfying one-off chase between Batman, Milo, and the GCPD. There’s something gritty about ACO’s art that suits the feel of the issue, even if the action can sometimes be rather hard to follow.

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Maybe the claustrophobic feel of Harper and Steph’s brawl is the whole point, but the panels are so cramped that it’s difficult to tell what exactly they’re doing, and there’s little flow in the action from one panel to the next. It’s a small complaint, but one that took me right out of the fight for a minute, and in an issue that relies so heavily on its action, that’s not a good thing.

The clues are starting to come together in Detective Comics 39, but I’m not entirely sure I like where they’re leading. There’s been a trend towards depicting the Mad Hatter as a pedophile for a while now — which I suppose is perfectly understandable considering the allegations thrown at Lewis Carroll — but it’s never been an interpretation I’ve cared for; Batman: The Animated Series and Gail Simone’s work with the character in the first Secret Six mini-series did excellent jobs of portraying Hatter as both sympathetic and terrifying without resorting to something as debased as molestation (which ruins the “sympathetic” element of the character). Moreover, while this reveal helps to tie Anarky’s motivations to the dead children Batman discovered at the beginning of the arc, it still seems rather separated from Anarky’s revolution. Politically motivated villains often have their beliefs tied into intensely personal motivations that eventually discredit their entire agenda (see: Amon from Legend of Korra), but that’s always bothered me, as it completely ignores the potentially more interesting and nuanced discussion of politics and social justice. But, I suppose sometimes you just need someone for Batman to sock in the jaw.

That doesn’t mean I completely disliked this issue, though. The detective work itself is strong, and I’m enjoying the rapport Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have developed between Batman and Bullock. And, of course, the art and coloring is to die for, as always.

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I think this may be my favorite layout Manapul and Buccellato have done since they started working on Detective Comics. I love how all the action stems from that one dramatic image of Batman, and it’s ingenious the way Buccellato uses color to distinguish different characters, with red depicting Batman’s fight and blue depicting Bullock’s struggle. I don’t think I’ll ever stop gawking at the art on this title — it’s just that good.

I feel similar awe for Action Comics 39, which wraps up Greg Pak’s horror-tinged story in a decidedly Superman-esque bow. Pak may be using this arc to play with a genre you don’t often associate with Superman, but he keeps the conclusion rooted specifically in Clark’s strengths and fears, giving us an insightful look into what actually scares Superman but, more importantly, showing us that Superman always has the power to overcome his fears. In fact, if this issue is about anything, it’s about how Superman can always do the impossible; in this issue alone he saves everybody, including Lana, despite constantly being told he can’t, ultimately saving the day and proving the citizens of Smallville wrong without a single casualty. It’s a celebration of what makes Superman great (and a rejection of the kind of cynicism that’s infected adaptations such as the Man of Steel film), and that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a Superman story. How about you, Drew? And what did you think of the addition of Scott Kolins on art?

Drew: I mostly lukewarm on Scott Kolin’s contributions. There’s nothing wrong with his artwork, but it’s hard not to miss Aaron Kuder’s distinctive style — especially when Kuder is contributing such strong work in his sequences. This issue is full of great moments, from Clark’s memories with Lana to Steel using his armor like a high-tech beta-blocker, but my favorite has to be Superman’s victory. It’s not just that he does the impossible, it’s that he does it by admitting superhuman amounts of fear. One might not expect someone as courageous as Superman to ever be afraid, but this ties into that definition of courage as not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of it. That’s a very cool lesson — one that makes Superman a bit more human than superhuman — well worth this trip into the twilight zone.

Meanwhile, C.O.W.L. 8 features no such simple morals. Indeed, with so many characters grappling with their own motives and values, it’s hard to know which way is up. Writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel get a ton of mileage from simply bouncing those motives and values off one another, goosing it along with some hard-nosed union politics. This issue doesn’t offer a ton in the way of new situations — it’s mostly an escalation of the threads set in motion in issue 7 — but that doesn’t stop it from offering a few clever twists. The real star of the issue, though, is artist Rod Reis, whose work just keeps getting more assured with each new issue. His background as a colorist gives him a rather unique eye for atmosphere.

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Seriously, no other artist should be allowed to draw a scene like this — it has now been perfected.

American Vampire: Second Cycle 6 finds writer Scott Snyder in full-on mythology-stitching mode, pulling together monster myths from virtually every continent into one mega-myth. It’s an appropriately American idea for a monster, but it’s also decidedly Snyder-y. And I mean that in the best way possible. The “clever history mashup by way of breathless monologue” will be familiar to folks who picked up Snyder’s The Wake, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. A few too many details may make this a bit exposition dumpy (I’m not sure the origins of the secret underground base was totally vital here), but the promise of a good old-fashioned heist AND a space adventure has me pretty jazzed for this next arc. Michael, did this pump you up at all, or did you find yourself a bit bogged down in the details here?

Michael: This issue certainly was heavy on the exposition, but I think when you’re talking American Vampire, that’s par for the course. Scott Snyder relishes in giving his readers a history lesson while simultaneously altering history to make it a lot more epic and crazy. Sputnik is a monitoring system so the Russians can nuke The Devil back to hell? I’m all about it! While American Vampire Second Cycle 5 was mostly prose, it was nice to see Albuquerque get back in there and show us some monster magic. Also I think with a book like American Vampire it is always necessary to give readers a refresher on what our characters have gone through up to this point. We are talking about a book with characters that have been around since the 1800s after all. So yes, I am very excited to see Vampires in Space!

VAMPIRES IN SPACE!

Green Lantern 39 gives us Hal Jordan back in space, doing the GL thing. The past issue showed Hal on shore leave and…not a lot happened. If that was a bit of a pause for Green Lantern, then Green Lantern 39 is a gradual reset. By and large the universe hates the Green Lantern Corps at the moment. The universe has become a battlefield for whatever war the Corps is currently in, and that’s not sitting right with a lot of its residents. The Templar Guardians have seemed to take the place of their predecessors, but instead of shaming Hal, they are putting their faith in him to restore the Corps’ reputation.

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Like most superheroes, Hal Jordan is very much defined by his daddy issues. Geoff Johns sort of had him come to terms with them at various points during his run, but what fun would a protagonist be without internal conflict? Even though Hal has often been described as a renegade, you can tell how much it means to him that the Guardians trust him; he is the Corps Leader now, after all. However, I was kind of confused by the end of the issue, where Hal is mulling over his options of “go down in flames or do something crazy.” What exactly are we talking about here, the best way to go about re-winning the universe’s approval? Judging by the solicit for next issue and the fact that the set the stage for “a status quo change that will impact all Green Lantern titles,” Hal’s going to do something crazy that upsets the Guardians. At this point it feels like just change for change’s sake — we haven’t been necessarily building up to a boiling point for Hal. So whatever drives Hal to upset the status quo next issue better be big.

Grayson 7 continues to be the best portrayal of Dick Grayson in The New 52; an impressive feat since it’s such an unfamiliar environment for the former Boy Wonder. The issue has all of the things that have made this series so successful: nifty hi-tech spy gear, Spyral continuing to be a shady and unpredictable force, and Dick Grayson being the best Dick Grayson he can be. I think it’s interesting that Grayson’s entire supporting cast knows that Dick is the best of them; Midnighter included. Midnighter has gone up against Dick and Spyral several times now and it’s pretty clear that he has a great deal of respect for the guy. He says “I can’t be surrounded by liars and murderers without becoming one myself.” Everyone knows who he was before he “died,” and like I mentioned earlier, they know that he is the best of them; in fact they rely on it. At the big concert showdown in Tel-Aviv, Spyral has to stop the terrorist group The Fist of Cain from using their “cloned brain of hate.” Helena knows that Dick will save the day because he is a damn good man, so save the day he does.

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My question is this: with everyone knowing exactly the type of person that Dick Grayson is, how long can he keep up his charade within Spyral?

Patrick: That’s an interesting question. Dick is obviously a hyper-capable spy, and his non-Spyral-y qualities make him an even better agent. If terrorist organizations are counter-programming Spyral agents, they’re going to be positively stymied by the irrepressible ray of sunshine that his Dick Grayson. Plus, his personality goes a long way toward buoying a series that allows itself to be obtuse, violent and weird. I mean, Michael did a good job of establishing the absurdity of Spyral’s goal in this issue (smashing a psychic hate-brain), but Grayson’s solution is even goofier — loving it into submission.

Writer Nick Spencer’s affinity for quirky Marvel villains — as established in his excellent Superior Foes of Spider-Man — is even more pronounced the second issue of Ant-Man. This time, both Spencer and Ant-Man himself are making the point that he is a (mostly) reformed villain, and the majority of his strengths come from that past. Scott Lang’s pitch to the local bank for a loan to start his Private Security business turns south when his demonstrative highjacking of the bank security protocols lets a Nazi Golem loose on Miami. Ant-Man is able to save the day in typically Ant-Man style (i.e., it involves shrinking), but the real interesting story stuff occurs when the audience isn’t looking — or rather, when Scott stops telling us his own story. Left alone in the bank’s vault, Scott has the chance to steal a few stacks of bills, and actually does it. He returns the cash once he finds an investor, but it’s telling that Spencer wants to keep the audience at arm’s length, even while he’s trying to make a case for Lang as a good father. It’s complicated and unflinching — real anti-hero kind of stuff: I wonder if we’ll get the same degree of development for Grizzly?

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Ryan: I am a big fan of Grizzly, as well. He embodies everything great about the classic rogue’s gallery trope of “guy in animal costume”, which I have loved since the first time I set my eyes upon The Rhino. Selfishly, as someone who works with the incarcerated, I truly hope Grizzly can bumble and bruise his way to full reintegration into society — you know, like the criminal justice system says it does! Anywhoo, I’ll keep reading Ant-Man, as long as this whole “Scott Lang is a hero” thing to a minimum and keep up the snark quota. I came for the snark, but next month (spoiler), I’m staying for the TASKMASTER!!!!

To mix metaphors, I like to think that I jumped on the Jonathan Hickman train fairly close to the ground level back when I first read The Nightly News. Since his huge jump over to mainstream fame and publishers, he has found a way to stay true to his his true loves: the malleability of Time and intricacies of multiple dimension-hood! Considering the fact that nearly all of their current arcs rely on these two things almost exclusively (as TIME RUNS OUT… in THREE MONTHS!!), what better place for Hickman than Marvel?

Avengers 41 lets the reader know right away that we will be spending time on Earth-1610, as the cover is borrowed directly from the incredible and defining Millar/Hitch ULTIMATES 1 arc, which introduced the 1610 Avengers as Persons of Mass Destruction, tied to governments and impacting the global political landscape. Some may agree with my thought that out of all the characters for Marvel which JH has written, his run in FF with Reed Richards has been the most thought-provoking. Readers get a healthy dose of Mr. Fantastic — or is he the Maker? — here. Will that big, scary brain of Richards’s be used for good or nefarious purposes as his path crosses with the Cabal in the Ultimate Universe? Namor’s role in the aforementioned Cabal also seems to be in flux, and could be prelude to his big baby-face turn to “selfish good-guy”. Aaaaand it would not be Hickman without another party in the mix just to liven things up; the Shi’ar (Earth-616) throw in their galactic hands into the mounting Convergence crisis as this convoluted chaos continues! While some may find the current arc a bit achroamatic, I treat these Avengers titles now as an erudite alternative to the standard Marvel dust-ups.

While I will always appreciate Hickman for all of his cerebral barrel-rolls, Wytches 4 keeps grabbing me in a very visceral way. Comics have caused me to cry, given me chills, and made me uncomfortable, but never previously had I read a comic that scared me. It was the same low rumble of terror that anyone who has been out in the woods by themselves and quietly understood that they are not in control there. After its debut making such an impact on me, I have been waiting for the following issues to keep up the momentum. Now, the fourth installment of the series pulls the curtain back further on some of the jump-scares of the previous.

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The audience and cast of characters alike are beginning to see how pervasive this ancient evil is, and I look forward to seeing what kind of Grimm (hehe) machinations Scott Snyder and Jock have in store.

Patrick: The series has always been a haunting amalgamation of horror tropes, as told through Jock’s particularly twisted lens, but I think this might be the first issue where Snyder’s frenetic mania matches his artist’s. Splitting the action between difficult situations that Charlie and Sailor find themselves in and then intercutting that with a weird fight they had years ago, leaves the reader disoriented. It’s a masterful stroke of spooky storytelling, and I know I was totally primed and ready for that perfect ghost-story ending.

I picked up the triple-thick Spawn 250 because I feel like I might owe it to any successful comic franchise to check it out at least once. I’ve never been a fan of the character or Todd McFarlane, but I have developed a taste for Szymon Kudranski’s work in the closing chapters of Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern. For his part, Kudranski is more than capable of depicting hundreds of faces at varying degrees of distress, but unfortunately, so much of the story centers on a swarm of birds, bats and bugs overtaking New York City and the human reaction to it mostly takes the form of inanimate victims: stalled cars, crashed helicopters, crop-circle-esque marks the swarms leave behind. To compensate for the lack of human stakes in this story, McFarlane front-loads this thing with news reports painfully telling the story rather than showing it. I can even sorta get the rationale for that — presenting the events through the press-fog-of-war simulates the confusion and disorientation of being swarmed by gross flying creatures — but all verisimilitude flies out the window when the reporters open their mouths.

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It’s like McFarlane’s never seen the news before. The whole issue reads like this: buckets and buckets of poorly articulated exposition. By the time I was introduced to the series regulars, I was at my threshold for new info, but I also got the distinct impression that the final confrontation between Jim Downing and the raw Spawn being was resolved through random deus ex machina, rather than through any ability on Downing’s part. I was bored and confused throughout, and don’t expect I will be picking up another issue any time soon.

On the flip side, I’m still getting a kick out of The Woods, which seems to have settled into a new groove entirely in the last two issues.With all of our principle cast dutifully developed over the LOST-ian second story arc, it’s exciting to watch them try to affect the still-mysterious world around them. That’s a neat progression: starting at Man vs. Nature, moving to Man vs. Himself, and now on to Man vs. Society. All of these conflicts are explored in a very teenager-y kind of way, and I think the potency of that lens grows even stronger in issue 10. It makes perfect sense to me that this society would enlist its new recruits as a kind of servant class, but it makes even more sense to me that the kids could get behind resisting that on a macro level.

Spencer: Oh yeah, Patrick — if there’s one thing teenagers do best, it’s rebel. And no matter who they’re facing, writer James Tynion IV has given these kids a lot to rebel against.

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I feel like this statement sums up a lot of what teens rebel against in general, and especially what the heroes of The Woods are facing. Be it Coach Clay and the generals of New London looking to turn these kids into their own personal servants and soldiers, or the mysterious forces behind these black stones looking to turn them into something more than human, these kids are constantly trying to be turned into something they’re not, giving them compelling reason to take action and resolve things their own way. Combine those conflicts with realistic, likable characters and the gorgeous, creative art of Michael Dialynas and Josan Gonzalez and you’ve got a book that’s one of my favorites month in and month out.

The conflict behind Marvel’s Cold War-era mini-series Operation S.I.N. isn’t quite as clear, even after its second issue. Is it a spy thriller? A sci-fi alien story? A missing piece of the Marvel Universe’s history? A spotlight for Peggy Carter to coincide with her television series? A rant against sexism? Operation S.I.N. 2 attempts to be a little bit of all of these, but that ultimately results in it feeling a bit scattered and aimless. Don’t get me wrong, Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis’ efforts on this book are more than serviceable; it’s a lot of fun, with witty, well-sketched characters, and it’s awfully pretty to look at. It’s just that, with as many compelling, top-tier titles as there are on the shelves (and as many that were released this week — just look how many books we’re covering in this very Round-Up!), a title needs more than that to stand out these days, and I just don’t know if Operation S.I.N. has it – even with were-bears in the mix.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl‘s purpose, though, is crystal clear: have as much fun as possible! The charm and humor we loved so much in issue 1 is in no way diminished in issue 2 — if anything, considering the jokes that Ryan North and Erica Henderson cram into every nook and cranny (be it backwards displays on Iron Man’s visor, club names and Stark warning signs, imaginary tattoos, or simply the alt-text that caps off each page), this issue may be even funnier than the first! That said, while it’s a tough choice, my favorite joke has to be simply the visual of Tippy-Toe the squirrel wearing an Iron Man suit:

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Priceless. Drew, I find it hard to discuss this book objectively other than to say that I find it absolutely irresistible; I love every second I spend in the world of Squirrel Girl and her amazing friends. What about you?

Drew: Oh man, what a blast this series is. You’re right to bring up the sheer volume of jokes — the gags-per-page is unprecedented, and what’s more impressive is that most of them stick. This is so unlike anything else from Marvel, the closest point of reference I have is Animaniacs — it’s zany and absurd, but everything is also totally character-driven. Seriously, after only two issues, I’m fully invested in Doreen’s desire to fit in at college, and especially invested in her new crush. North and Henderson seem poised to keep Doreen’s non-costumed life relatively grounded, while allowing Squirrel Girl’s adventures to take her to the Moon — it’s the best of street-level and Earth-saving superheroics rolled into one hilarious package.

Kamala Khan, meanwhile, pitches both her costumed and non-costumed life somewhere in between, but that only emphasizes her candidacy as Marvel’s next iconic superhero. Ms. Marvel 11 concludes her battle with the Inventor, pulling into focus exactly why he was such a perfect choice as her first villain. As a champion for teenage empowerment, Kamala needs to stand up to the Inventor’s dismissal “Do you really think your generation is going to produce innovators of my caliber?”, but it’s even more important that Ms. Marvel (that is, the very concept of the new hero) stand up to it, as well. It’s easy to see writer G. Willow Wilson addressing the criticisms that come when creating a new character (as the Inventor’s warehouse full of “missing” characters can attest [wasn’t one of them an obscure X-Man?]), but this issue makes a compelling case for both Kamala Khan and the generation she represents. Plus, Adrian Alphona draws Lockjaw. What more could you want?

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

2 comments on “Weekly Round-Up: Comics Released 2/4/15

  1. Busy week – Barely had time to think, let alone read. I didn’t even buy Ant-Man, COWL, or Squirrel Girl (all that I *kind of* wanted to read), but I liked the conclusion to the Ms. Marvel Arc and got ridiculously excited about the Ultimate Reed Richards story in Avengers. Way too excited. I thought it was fantastic.

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