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Reviews

Cataclysm – The Ultimates’ Last Stand # 1 Review

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Last week I reviewed the 0.1 issue of Cataclysm that set the stage for what would come in the event series that, supposedly, will herald the end of the Ultimate Universe. This week I took a look at the first issue of the series, based almost entirely off of the fact that Brian Michael Bendis was on scripting duties with Mark Bagley handling the art. These are the guys who defined the Ultimate Universe, for me at least, and seeing them pal back up to possibly bring it to a close put a measure of confidence in the project for me on a personal level. Bendis feels like the person who should be writing this. As much as Millar and Hitch shepherded The Ultimates through two volumes and revolutionized comics in a very substantial way, Bendis sustained Ultimate Spider-Man as the tentpole of the universe and that book is, to many (myself included) the heart and soul of the Ultimate universe.

So how does the book measure up?

Like I admitted last week, I haven’t been knee deep in the Ultimate Universe for a while. I fell of off Ultimate Spider-Man around the third arc of Miles Morales’ time as the ultimate webspinner, and I’m only remotely aware of the goings on in the rest of the line. If we look at the book as a real game changer for the universe, even if it isn’t meant to be the end of the line, it holds up quite well. Compare it to say, Ultimatum, and you notice right away that the character beats of the book hold up much better. The action is a bit understated, considering that it is Galactus essentially destroying New Jersey, but the reaction of Miles Morales to such an overwhelming threat is in line with what you expect a young hero to exude during a crisis.

Bagley’s art is what we have come to expect from him, though it looks more finely finished than when he was working on Ultimate Spider-Man on a monthly basis. There is definition and scale that really works in the book’s favor.

I wasn’t entirely sold on the event based on last week’s debut, but this issue has me intrigued and I truly do want to see where things go. Right now I don’t have the slightest clue. Just a bunch of wild speculations bouncing around in my brain.

Rating: 4/5

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Comic Review – Ultimate Comics Cataclysm #0.1

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I have to admit that I stopped reading the Ultimate line a while ago. After the second arc of Miles Morales’ turn as Spider-Man, I believe. I just lost interest because the line didn’t seem to grab me the way it did when it was first launched. I think it was a steady roll to apathy that began with Ultimatum. I don’t have any investment in the universe as a whole anymore so Cataclysm is an outlier for me. It is something that catches my eye because it is supposedly going to be the end of the Ultimate universe, though that isn’t totally confirmed, and that as a concept seems like something I would be interested in seeing executed well.

The problem then, at least for me, is that there is no attachment to the characters and their universe when I picked up this issue. For current fans of the Ultimate universe, I feel the book might resonate a bit better than it did with me. But the attitude on display here seems self-referential, like Marvel is aware of the fact that the Ultimate Universe expirement has run its course and needs to come to an end. There is a point where the 616 version of Galactus states emphatically that “this universe is broken.” While the Ultimate Vision pleads that it can be saved. I think the crux of the book falls in that simple argument; is the Ultimate Universe worth keeping around?

Aside from Ultimate Spider-Man and perhaps Brian Wood’s Ultimate X-Men, the ultimate titles are mostly stagnant at the store which employs me. Some titles have a core following, but not like they did half a decade ago.

Perhaps it is time to bury this universe. The question is whether or not this event will do it in a manner befitting one of the only alternate universe lines not to immediately tank itself.

Rating: 3/5


Comic Review – Velvet # 1

VelvetEd Brubaker and Steve Epting are a powerhouse team. Their work on Captain America is the best the character is likely ever going to see for the foreseeable future. You can thank Ed Brubaker personally for revitalizing the character to the point where he wasn’t a joke to the majority of the comic buying public. It is also a testament to his work that the next film will be drawing largely from his lore. The reason his Marvel work resonated so much is because Ed Brubaker knows how to play with convention and genre tropes, respectfully, while turning them on their ear and defying expectations.

Brubaker’s work with Velvet is more of what we have come to expect from him. Character work and atmosphere. Plot and mood. Much like his other creator-owned work, such as Fatale, Incognito, or Criminal, the world that we are dropped into feels fully realized and developed. Like stories have been being told about these characters for years and the blood and sweat has been spilled over them before we ever crack the page. It doesn’t come off as inaccessible, because we fill in gaps in our knowledge fairly quickly with pertinent details of the who and general back-story, but the book feels very much like the middle of a longer story with fully realized characters and that works very much to its advantage.

Velvet is a period piece, set in the 1970s with flashbacks to the sixties and all of it feels like a James Bond novel filtered through the lens of a grungy late-seventies film renaissance aesthetic. Like if Coppola directed You Only Live Twice. Steve Epting’s art is vibrant while being simultaneously moody and portrays the eras of the narrative with equal distinction and clarity.

Personally, I think this is his best work since he launched Criminal a few years ago. It is a well plotted, tightly-paced, impeccably drawn espionage genre yarn that resembles nothing else on the rack. Brubaker knows how to write a spy thriller, he did it quite well on his Captain America run, but freed from the reigns of Marvel’s editorial hands, he can truly let loose and keep us guessing from month to month. The only guess we can be confident in making is that each issue will be better than the last.

Rating : 4/5


Comic Review – Pretty Deadly # 1

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I grew up watching westerns. Not by choice, really. My dad was obsessed with John Wayne. He named me after a John Wayne movie, for crying out loud. I never did get into The Duke myself, although The Searchers is now one of my all time favorites and I absolutely love a few others, like Rio Bravo, True Grit, and The Shootist. My real love of westerns came almost by accident. My dad being a John Wayne fan meant inevitably that I would skew against his tastes and end up a bigger fan of  folks like Clint Eastwood. The spaghetti western spoke to me in ways that the usual “cowboys and indians” stuff my dad enjoyed simply couldn’t. It was the moral ambiguity, the dirt and the grime and the absurdity of those films that really got me searching out other westerns. I took in all the Leone westerns, my favorite being a tossup between Once Upon a Time In The West or The Good The Bad and The Ugly. I found the Django movies and Lee Van Cleef’s Sabata series. Latter day westerns like Unforgiven, Tombstone, and Open Range also made their way into my DVD collection.

I also happen to enjoy western comics. I have a complete run of Palmiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex series from the pre-New 52 days in issue format. I think I was the only person in the store who had it on their pull-list at the time. I’m also still digging the hell out of All-Star Western, though that is so cross genre I’m not sure if it counts. I’ll say it does and beg you to read the trades if you haven’t already, as it’s an overlooked gem at DC. Remember Brian Azzarello’s Loveless? I Do, and I loved it enough to get it signed when I met him a few years back. I don’t know if all this has something to do with me being from Texas, but I’ll wager it is a factor. The genre simply speaks to me on a certain level, so when I heard that Kelly Sue DeConnick would be teaming with Emma Rios to write a western book for Image I got real excited real quick. Kelly Sue is one of the finest writers working right now. She’s getting a lot of respect for her work on Captain Marvel which is more than deserved as that book is just aces. DeConnick previously worked with Rios on their Osborne mini-series for Marvel, which was well written and filled with dark, emotive artwork. That team working together on a creator-owned western book was bound to pique my interest.

Issue one drops today and it is a stunning book. I’ve sung the praises of the creator-owned comic renaissance we seem to be in the middle of before when talking about Sex Criminals and Rocket Girl, this book certainly gives credence to my claims. Pretty Deadly is a book that defies genre expectations and utilizes every aspect of the graphic medium to tell a story that is intriguing, beautiful and unlike anything else on the stands. While it is most certainly a western book, elements of more whimsical and introspective genres creep into the text as well. The traveling “blind man” and the young girl evoke Eastern manga and film imagery from “Zatoichi” and “Lone Wolf and Cub.” Considering the history of Japanese and American culture borrowing from each other, with Seven Samurai becoming The Magnificent Seven and Unforgiven being turned into a samurai film called Yurusarezaru mono, this blending of genres feels organic and not at all like a forced mash-up. This also creates a very somber tone that puts it more in line with the modern cinematic western aesthetic of say, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but with the added twist of a supernatural element.

The closest model that I can reference for the tone of this book is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That melding of genres seems similar to what DeConnick and Rios are presenting here, although Pretty Deadly steers mostly clear of absurdity and stays more in line with a feeling of dark fantasy within a western setting. When I say there is nothing like it on the stands, I am not exaggerating. Pretty Deadly is an inventive, original title that deserves all the acclaim that it can handle. I had exceedingly high hopes for this book and they were met on every level. The narrative structure is well crafted and tells an inventive story that plays with genre tropes and conventions without getting trapped in them while the artwork is gorgeous, dark, and evocative of the exact mood this book requires. The creative team really hit the nail on the head.

All things considered, this is the definite pick of the week if not the pick of the month. Do yourself a favor and get your copy today.

Rating: 5/5 


Comic Review : Star Trek – Khan # 1

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I think it goes without saying that this review will contain spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness. If you haven’t seen it you probably should. OF course if you’re buying this book without seeing the movie your existence puzzles me and I don’t know of what help I can be to you.

The issue begins at the trial of Benedict Cucumberbatch’s Khan following the events of Into Darkness. I know Cumberbatch’s casting as Khan is still a touchy subject for a good number of people, so the panel where the Federation is confused as to why this whitebread Englishman is purporting to be Khan while the photo they have for him clearly looks like Ricardo Montalban puts a great big grin on my face

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN

The book then turns into an origin story for Khan, beginning in the 1970s where a company is interested in genetically engineering super soldiers. Khan is shown as a cripple who through genetic tampering in combination with a superior intellect grows into a violent, sociopathic threat.

I don’t know how “canon” this story is meant to be. I know that Robert Orci gets a “story consultant” credit on the opening page, but beyond that I do not know if anything contained herein will do anything to assuage the feelings of people offended by Cumberbatch’s casting as Khan. It is shown that young Khan does indeed look far more dark skinned than Cumberbatch, so are we going to find that the Khan from Into Darkness may not be who he claims? I doubt it because the general public is not going to read this book, so it would do nothing to add to the story unless they adapt part of it for the third installment of the film franchise, which I doubt very much will happen.

On its own merit the book is interesting and easily a recommended read to Star Trek fans. Where the series will go after this first issue is a real mystery, one better kept than Abrams’ attempt to hide Cumberbatch’s identity as Khan.

Rating: 3/5


Comic Review – Afterlife With Archie # 1

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One of the more interesting of the bunch is Afterlife With Archie, a book that takes our beloved Riverdale gang and drops them into the middle of a macabre horror story, far removed from the malt shop merriment Archie, Jughead, and company are so usually assorted with.

Beginning with a distraught Jughead appearing in the middle of the night at the doorstep of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, begging for mystical assistance in saving his beloved pup Hotdog after a late night run-in with a vehicle (later revealed to be driven by a familiar face to Archie readers). What follows is equal parts Romero and Pet Sematary, with artwork by  Francesco Francavilla all draped in dark black, orange, and purple hues that evoke a very specific, spooky vibe.

Writer Robert Aguirre-Sacasa pulls no punches in giving a story that in no way belongs on the kiddie rack. In an interview with the New York Daily News he explained his ambitions with the story; “It’s a hardcore horror book,” said Aguirre-Sacasa, a Harvey Award-winning writer who melded his personal interests and horror obsessions into influences for the book. “This is why I was meant to do comics.”

If you’ve never read an Archie book, don’t worry, this book reads well as a straightforward horror comic. If you’re a fan of the Archie pantheon however, every page packs an extra punch. As far as Halloween horror comics go, Afterlife With Archie is the one to beat.

Rating: 4/5


Comic Review – Rocket Girl # 1

rocketgirl1I guess we can just say with certainty that we have entered the age of the crowd-funded comic book boom. Kickstarter has really changed the way we look at creator owned books nowadays. The guage for whether the audience is there is built into the concept. If you trust the talent involved and are willing to invest in them, they will repay you with a title that you can then judge with the benefit of knowing what you were getting from the inception.

I think the process has helped the industry in many ways. I think that Kickstarter is going to be the thing that gives creators the opportunity to do everything they deserve to do in the medium. You hear horror stories of books being shot down by editors years ago and you wonder what life they might have had in today’s climate. I’m sure more than a few rejected scripts are finding their way to Kickstarter projects.

Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare’s Rocket Girl # 1 is definitely a shining example of how Kickstarter can work and work well. Amy and Brandon bring us a book that is unlike anything else on the stands at the moment, a considerable feat if you consider the amazing spread of new books we get each and every week. I have been pumping out review after review for new creator owned books and I have gone on record as saying we’re in the middle of an Image renaissance where in a few years time people will look back and stutter in amazement at how many wildly inventive titles the company released.

The story revolves around an officer in 2013’s New York Teen Police Department who goes back in time to investigate an organization who has allegedly been altering history to grow their influence in the market. The book is the sort of high-concept science fiction that is sorely lacking in today’s comic book market. What is simply amazing is how the scriptwork is vibrant and stylized in a way that matches Reeder’s dazzling art. While Montclare gives us dialog that does a great deal of worldbuilding and allows the characters to become realized to the reader in ways that are both subtle and organic, Amy Reeder does the same thing with the art; it is expressive and stylized in such a manner that it forces the book to stand out and grab the reader’s attention. Much like Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, which I applauded a few weeks back, Rocket Girl is a perfect blend of script and art that many other comics simply wish they could attain. The elements that make this book meld into something truly special and leaves us entertained and fulfilled in the way that a monthly comic should.

If you’re looking for a new debut issue to hop onto, I strongly suggest you toss this onto your pull list. I’ve already grabbed a few extra copies to hand out to some friends because I truly do think this is an amazing book that can truly be a cross-genre hit.

Rating: 5/5