Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Pull List - Comic Reviews for 7/4/2012

I've decided to start doing a weekly post where I do quick reviews for the comics on my pull list. Some of these are from previous months, but I'm including them since I purchased them this week.

This week I'm reviewing:
- Animal Man #11
- Avengers Vs. X-Men #7
- Batwing #11
- Deadpool #57
- Earth 2 #2 and #3
- Justice League Dark #10
- Lookouts #1

There may be some SPOILERS, but I'll try not to be too specific unless I need to be in order to make a point.

Animal Man #11

Jeff Lemire's run on "Animal Man" has been nothing short of spectacular. Part of it is the family dynamic that makes Buddy Baker unique. No other prominent superheroes have to juggle a wife, a grumpy mother-in-law, and two kids on a regular basis. What also makes it special is how, alongside the equally awesome "Swamp Thing", it expands upon the source of Buddy's power. The battle between the Red (the power of animal life) the Green (the power of plant life) and the Rot (the power of decay) has elevated these two titles in a way that makes them both even better.

The final thing that has made Animal Man really good is the art, which isn't afraid to stand outside convention and bring something fresh and beautiful in its own way.

With this issue, Buddy is giving a new body by the Red to replace the one he lost to the Rot. The only significant change we've seen so far with this body is that now he actually changes physical form when he takes on the abilities of animals. While I imagine some may say that this is sacrilege (comic fans are notorious for resisting change) in the context of this series, it is genius. Now we no longer need Buddy's inner monologue to tell us what powers he's accessing. Now it is told entirely through the art and it looks amazing. If Alberto Ponticelli doesn't get showered in awards for his work in this title, then we live in an unjust world.

If you haven't started reading "Animal Man" and "Swamp Thing", go start.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #7

I was not a fan of the first half of this event. John Romita Jr.'s art often felt phoned-in and the story meandered without any real direction.

However, Issue #6 was, in my opinion, the first step in the right direction since Issue #0. There were some great character moments, Coipel's art was (and continues to be) excellent, and the X-Men trying to take over the world in a peaceful way was unexpected and far more interesting. The Marvel Universe's version of Obama talking to the Avengers about how something needs to be done about the X-Men was also pretty unintentionally hilarious.

That being said, Issue #7 takes one step forward, two steps back.

As previously mentioned, Coipel's art is still great. I wish he had been on the title from the start. But Matt Fraction's script is just... frustrating.

Here's the thing about Matt Fraction. There are far worse comic writers out there. Fraction is not even close to one of the worst. But he is DEFINITELY one of the must frustrating. Kind of like how there are many movies worse than the "Star Wars" prequels, but there are few that are as frustrating.

As an example, Fraction's scene between Tony Stark and T'Challa is excellent. They play off each other very well and it was a joy to read. But then basically every scene with Emma Frost is a pile of garbage.

There's nothing more frustrating than seeing someone do one thing really well and then completely miss the mark a few moments later.

Emma almost killing Hawkeye and then cheating on Cyclops was just plain out-of-character. Yes, she's partially possessed by the Phoenix, but while in Issue #6 the Phoenix Five seemed to retain the majority of their personalities and morals, in this issue that seems to have gone out the window because Fraction wanted to have a moment where everyone would be afraid for Hawkeye and because he wanted another moment where Emma and Namor make out. Fraction's caring more about what he wants to see and less about what makes sense for the story or the characters.

I'm hoping things improve in the next issue, but this event is not all that good so far.

Batwing #11

"Batwing" is one of those titles that surprised me. It took me a few issues to really get into it, but what won me over was the unique choice in setting. Most comic books are set somewhere in the United States or some otherworldly fictional location. Not many are set in Africa and even fewer try to portray Africa in a modern and realistic way.

Many of us are aware of how broken many of the nations of Africa are. They are rife with exploitation, poverty, crime, and corruption. If any continent needs superheroes, it's Africa. And yet most of the African superheroes operate in America. In addition, the writers tend to overplay their heritage by giving them an "African-sounding" name and covering their outfits with "tribal artifacts". It's a romanticized portrayal of African heritage and it does a disservice to the current state of their cultures.

This comic does everything it can to build a rich superhero mythology within Africa and, for the most part, it succeeds tremendously. So even while not every issue is all that riveting, I always want to keep reading to learn more about this ever-evolving mythology.

Also, the character of Batwing himself is somewhat interesting. He hasn't really popped for me in a big way, but his history of violence as a child soldier is fascinating and offers a lot of growth potential.

As for this issue in particular, it's OK. I get the impression that the title isn't selling particularly well, so they're getting Nightwing and Batman involved in order to try and boost the sales. There seem to be two disparate plots going on. One involving pirates and another involving Batwing's "Alfred" character, Matu. I'm assuming these two plots are connected, but that connection has yet to be established.

The plot involving the pirates doesn't interest me as much as the plot involving Matu. Additionally, this issue has a lot of a stuff that -- as someone who is familiar with computers -- bugs the CRAP out of me.

OK, no. That's not how it works. That would be like plugging a similar device into a power outlet to find out what appliances had been recently plugged into it. Unless that little device has the ability to auto-hack into the ISP and somehow pull of the history pertaining to that particular jack's current IP address, I don't see how this could possibly work, and if that IS the case, you can just skip straight to hacking the ISP.

But it's comics, so I'll forgive it.

Also, they track the pirates to Beijing and Nightwing joins Batwing on the case because Batwing is a member of the newly formed Batman, Incorporated. 

Not that I don't like Nightwing or anything, but wouldn't it have been more convenient to just get Cassandra Cain (Black Bat) to help? I mean, she's based in Hong Kong, although I guess that might have changed since "Flashpoint", but it has neither been confirmed nor denied as far as I'm aware. Eh, whatever.

Like I said, this issue is a bit muddled, but I like it and I still recommend the series as a whole since it definitely offers something different. If you ever complain that there aren't enough people of color in comics, this is the comic you should be reading.

Deadpool #57

Anyone who knows me knows that Deadpool is my all-time favorite superhero. The "Deadpool" series probably isn't one of my favorite series, but the character is still my favorite.

Daniel Way's series has been good, but it's not nearly as brave or as funny as Joe Kelly's was back in the day.

Even so, Way took a unique direction with the character in his most recent arc, "Dead", where Deadpool was ultimately "cured". He no longer appears grotesque, but he also no longer regenerates. It's unclear how this affected the cancer in his body, but since he hasn't dropped dead, it's probable that the accelerated growth of his cancerous cells has stopped as well (though I'm assuming he's not tumor-free or anything).

So Deadpool, now mortal, started out happier than he's ever been. Life suddenly mattered. However, he also realized that his years of regenerating have made him careless and sloppy. Before, if he ever made a mistake, he could just heal up and try again. But now he's playing for keeps, and that frightens him.

He's teamed up with Taskmaster to try and get back into the groove of things, but he's also been trying to keep the loss of his healing factor a secret. This hasn't been going well so far.

This issue is OK, but not great. It's not terribly funny, Trapster's appearance was largely inconsequential, and the setup for the next issue is largely uninteresting. I feel like we're missing out on exploring something more interesting with this new (and probably temporary) development in Deadpool's life. Way seems more interested in giving Deadpool more bad guys to fight than in actually examining his psyche, which is a shame because when Way actually DOES this, it makes for some of the best story-arcs in the series. So far, this isn't one of those arcs.

Earth 2 #2 and #3

I caught the first issue of "Earth 2" when it came out, and I liked it, but I already had enough ongoing series on my pull list that adding another one seemed like a bad idea unless I really enjoyed it.

But this week, I heard about how good "Earth 2" is getting and I decided to read last month's issue as well as the issue for this week.

All of the things I liked about the first issue are still there. The major players are all dead, allowing this universe to focus on the more ancillary characters. They're also reinventing the Golden Age versions of many characters, starting with Alan Scott as Green Lantern and Jay Garrick as the Flash.

What grabbed headlines last month was how Alan Scott is gay now. While I'm all for including more gay characters in entertainment, and while I'm all for Alan being gay, the inclusion of a boyfriend who tragically dies to give Jay some kind of motivation and meaning behind his power ring just seems like a misstep. Loved ones dying as motivation is bad enough, but it's even worse when it happens to minority characters, primarily because it happens way too often.

On top of that, Alan's reaction to losing his boyfriend is pretty relaxed. He seems to get over it pretty quickly, and while a hero losing their shit over a lost loved one is a bit cliche, it's kind of hard to accept that Alan just moves on that quickly.

The new Jay Garrick is a lot of fun, though. Maybe I just have a thing for characters who like to experiment with their powers and test the limits.

What I think won me over with this issue, however, was how in this universe, Alan Scott is the champion for the Green, presumably in the same way that Swamp Thing is the champion for the Green. However, in this universe, it appears that the Rot is now called the Grey. They haven't talked about the Red yet, though I'm not sure how it all ties together. It's definitely very different from the way this pantheon is portrayed in the primary universe, but it's inclusion got me excited nonetheless.

My only real problem with the concept of this series is that the whole point of the "Flashpoint" relaunch was to simplify things for new audiences. By bringing in Earth 2, we're going to start getting things complicated again. I'm guessing they're hoping that any new readers they picked up will use this new series as a jumping off point to understanding the more complicated stuff like the Multiverse, but I'm not sure if that will pay off.

In any case, I'm enjoying this series enough to add it to my pull list for now.

Justice League Dark #10

This is another older title, specifically from last week. I meant to pick it up then, but I had forgotten about it. No big deal.

I actually didn't give a crap about "Justice League Dark" until last month when I found out Jeff Lemire took over the title. After seeing John Constantine's cameo in an issue of "Animal Man", I knew that Lemire had a knack for the character's voice, and since I also enjoy "Demon Knights", which also has Madame Xanadu as one of the team members, I decided to give this a try.

Issue #9 was a perfectly serviceable jumping-on point for me since they had just barely wrapped up whatever the previous arc was and were starting with a completely new one. I was already familiar with most of the characters (Constantine, Xanadu, Zatarra, and Deadman) and the others were interesting enough. And, as I had hoped, Lemire's writing was very good.

Issue #10 is more of the same, and that's a good thing. The team is well-balanced, and the magical elements are treated in a manner that I like best. Specifically, I love it when magic is mysterious and fluid, but still feels as though it has rules and structure. This allows it to feel suitably magical without feeling like it can be routinely exploited for plot contrivance.

Each character has their own reasons for being involved in the team, and most of them aren't too fond of being there, but it works because it allows us to get to know the characters better and see what actually matters to them.

I would recommend picking up this title from Issue #9 if you're fond of more mystical comic stories like "Dr. Strange" or "Hellblazer". I wouldn't say it's as good a horror title as "Animal Man" or "Swamp Thing", but it definitely has my attention.

Lookouts #1

This last one is inspired from a comic idea from Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, AKA Gabe and Tycho, AKA The Penny Arcade guys. The basis for the idea is a sort of fantasy version of the Boy Scouts, where they explore mystical forests to find mythical creatures and such. It was an infectious idea and I'm happy to see it come to life in an actual comic.

While this issue isn't drawn or written by Mike and Jerry, they were definitely involved in the story and are proud of the result.

Though I can't say that this comic is as beautifully drawn or written as the mini-series Mike and Jerry did, it definitely understands its overall concepts and potential.

This first story exists as a way of introducing us to this world. The Lookouts are tasked with defeating a sphinx who has been blocking a path and eating unsuspecting travelers. In order to prepare for this task, their leader, Samson, decides to have them face a troll. Like a sphinx, a troll is territorial and often poses travelers with riddles, but they are not as cryptic as the riddles of the sphinx.

While this issue ends before they go face the troll, we still managed to establish the characters in a satisfying manner.

I only have two problems with the issue.

First of all, it is INCREDIBLY obvious that the bookish character, Lark, is going to be the one to defeat the sphinx. I hope that I'm wrong since that would be painfully predictable and I'm pretty sure I've seen essentially the same exact story in an episode of "Extreme Ghostbusters" back in the day.

Second, the story is having a difficult time finding the right tone, but that's often the case with entirely new series. I'm sure it just needs time to grow.

One thing I give the writer of this issue credit for is writing a riddle I've never heard before. As someone who has been a Dungeon Master more than once, I know how difficult it is to create a riddle. Most riddles are ancient and passed down rather than entirely invented. But the riddle the sphinx poses at the beginning of the story is something I've never heard before and I genuinely can't think of what the answer could be. Perhaps we'll find out.

That's it for comics this week. All of the comics I've reviewed are available on Comixology and I encourage you try them out if you want to get into comics but can't be bothered to go to a comic book store every week.