Iron Fist The Living Weapon #1
Writer/Artist: Kaare Andrews
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
20 pages, $3.99
Weak heart? Grab your nitro. Get nervous when faced with deviations from the norm? Pop a Xanax. Feeling a little wobbly? Grab ahold of something steady.
Why all these warnings? Because, for the first time in the history of Inveterate Media Junkies, I am giving a Marvel comic book a straight-up PERFECT 5 Star review with no reservations.
I don’t mean the above to sound pompous. (I really don’t.) But seeing how we get assailed by idiots whenever we dare give any mainstream comic anything less than perfect score (unlike all the other sites that pander in exchange for favoritism), I truly think it’s important to define the distinction here. I also know exactly how harsh I can be (when I’m harshing on a shit comic book), so I’m just trying to drive home how unusual this is… And how great it is too. Call it liberating. Call it fantastic. Call it Hell Freezing Over… I don’t care. But know I say this without hesitation: Iron Fist The Living Weapon #1 is the BEST Marvel Comic in well over a decade.
If I were some needy mook hoping to curry even further favor, now’s about the time I would start to regale you with my hopes– like how I hope this title is ushering in a new Golden Age for Marvel Comics. But I’m not gonna… Primarily because I know damn well this comic is a fluke. And by using the word “fluke” I am not diluting or disparaging creator Kaare Andrews or his fantastic work in any way. By “fluke” I simply mean this: This book is an anomaly. It’s a rare thing. Among the hundreds of comics released in the last month, Marvel published a lot of shit– and will continue to do so long after this series is gone.
Here’s another reason why this comic is an anomaly: Iron Fist The Living Weapon #1 is nothing more than a mainstream comic book publisher allowing a great creator to exercise free rein on a less-popular character. And here’s something else you don’t hear near enough when critics praise “lower tier” character comics: One of the reasons these books are often much better than the “big time” hero trash? The corporate suits don’t care much what anyone does with these characters. Fans aren’t beating down doors demanding Movie Trilogies or flashy TV Series with these heroes. Trinket manufacturers aren’t begging to overpay for high-priced licenses for any of these creations.
In short: The fewer the people (both inside and outside the publisher) that give a shit about a comic book allows for rare instances like this… Moments where caring, talented creators can swoop in and make something majestic out of someone else’s offal… With very little interference from anyone.
If you need me to compare this to some other comic, to ground my reasoning in a concrete example– I’ve got THREE WORDS for you: Frank Miller’s Daredevil. And, of course, I mean Frank Miller before he turned into a self-important douche who acts as if his talent now transcends the medium he made his bones in. No– I’m talking about the young Miller who was given creative freedom over a low-selling character (Daredevil)– at a time when very few writers and artists gave two shits about “The Man Without Fear”.
And that’s exactly what we have here. Iron Fist (and several other great second tier Marvel characters) recently suffered through the half-hearted exercise that was Marvel’s most recent Heroes for Hire reboot. Before that, the usually smart and talented Ed Brubaker churned out The Immortal Iron Fist… A book that proved even the best creators can make missteps– especially when their employers are busy touting them as “Architects” and other such nonsense.
Let’s face it: There hasn’t been a good Iron Fist comic book since the very first Iron Fist comics (and select issues of the original Heroes for Hire too). But those books were (understandably) rooted in a different era– so comparing them to Kaare Andrews’ new comic would be a foolish exercise in stupidity.
Nope. The closest cousin to Iron Fist The Living Weapon #1 is still Miller’s Daredevil… As if Andrews studied Frank’s playbook and instinctively knew what to throw away, what to change and, most importantly, what to keep exactly the same.
I’m not going to bother you with the plot and tell you (any further) how wonderful this comic is… But I will impart one last warning: Andrews’ Iron Fist origin story is deceptively simple. If you flip through it at the shop, read it on an uncomfortably crowded commuter train or rush through it while you’re grabbing 5 minutes of peace on the family toilet… You will not understand what I saw.
Me? I read it a little after Twelve Midnight– in a silent world lorded over by a Lunar Eclipse featuring a Red Blood Moon. That, my dear friends, was the perfect time to read this perfect modern comic. You owe it to yourself to do the same. - Ian MacMillan
Flash Gordon #1
The Man From Earth
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artist: Evan Shaner
Colorist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Simon Bowland
21 pages, $3.99
When I wrote this comic down as one of the books I’d like to review this week, I honestly never thought I would get the chance. I was certain this was one of those times Ian would come out from behind the editor’s desk and write a review– since we all know how much he enjoys his classic pulp characters and stories… But I truly lucked out.
If I was going to write a Twitter Review for this comic I would say, “Flash Gordon #1 is fun, adventurous and has some of the best colouring ever! However it stumbles out of the gate with some heavy exposition.” (Which is exactly 140 characters, without the quotes!)
Now before you start thinking, “This is one of those good news/bad news reviews”… Let me assure you– it isn’t. Comic book fans rarely ever get a perfect story. Our favourite comics often come really close, but there always seems to be something for geeks to nitpick. Example: Invincible is probably my most favourite comic ever– but I would hardly ever give an issue a full 5 out of 5 Star rating. The same goes for Flash Gordon… Even with IMJ Favourite™ Jeff Parker at the helm.
The comic starts off strong, introducing the three main characters– Dale Arden, Doctor Zarkov and Flash Gordon– very quickly and efficiently. By getting directly to the point, both writer and reader find themselves immediately in the thick of the action. After barely 4 pages on Earth, we’re all transported to the planet Mongo– smack in the middle of a high-speed air chase. And all is well, until Parker’s script spirals heavily into exposition land. The charm and wit of the characters is still there, but all the words hinder the experience a bit. Main antagonist Emperor Ming is by far the worst culprit of over-explanation. Almost everything he says is an info-dump. (Luckily he doesn’t have much to say.)
Now’s a good a time as any to mention I’m a newbie to Flash Gordon… And with only one issue published (so far), I can’t tell yet if my neophyte status is going to be a problem. The good news: I’ve already gotten a good understanding of each character and their motivations– and I’m not at all surprised by their actions.
This is a strong testament to how great Jeff Parker’s talent is– entertaining the reader quickly and efficiently takes some serious skill. That said, I can’t help but feel if I had a previous connection to this legendary character, I might’ve enjoyed myself tenfold. For the moment, I’ll give Parker a pass on this. Given the long rich history behind Flash Gordon, it may very well be impossible to make any new reader feel completely comfortable with the premise after just one comic book story. What I may lack in overall understanding, Parker makes up through his characters’ witty dialogue and strong relationships. (I’m already in love with the way Flash interacts with Doctor Zarkov and Dale… It’s priceless.)
And holy mother-of-all-things-holy… Do I love this art team! Classic pulp art aided by modern-day colouring and printing techniques. Each and every panel is expressive and dynamic– even the simplest of drawings. Honestly, I didn’t really pay that much attention to Evan Shaner’s art– since I was overwhelmed by Jordie Bellaire’s outstanding colour work. (She is, by far, one of my favourite colourists of late.)
Look at the art sample above! This is a perfect example of an artist and colourist depicting motion in a unique way– instead of using the horrific “PhotoShop Blur” currently plaguing the industry. Thank you, Evan Shaner and Jordie Bellaire– you’ve restored my faith in comic books and artists. Everything you accomplish in Flash Gordon #1 shoots for high quality… And thanks for NEVER taking the easy way out. I’ll pay to experience this book just for your efforts alone.
Between Parker’s dynamic script and the Shaner/Bellaire art team, I cannot wait to see what happens next. Bring it on! - Nick Furi
What If? Age of Ultron #2
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist: Ramon Villalobos
Colorist: Ruth Redmond
Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino
20 pages, $3.99
What If? Age of Ultron is a five-part series featuring individual stories centered on different heroes in different places and times– all to answer one question: What if Ultron (the creation of the brilliant scientist Hank Pym) gained not only human-like intelligence– but awareness?
Yeah…What if? Unfortunately for humanity, the answer is never good.
Both issues of this series were real standouts for me. Equally heartbreaking and ominous, the first issue centers on Pym as he lives for decades with the consequences of his unintentionally devastating creation. In the second comic, we’re introduced to the world from the viewpoint of some of our favourite (rebellious) heroes. Some are aged, retired and changed entirely– but they’re all forced to face this new world whether they want to or not. Centered on the aftermath of the “Armor Wars” between Tony Stark and Ultron, we witness a band of broken heroes attempting to salvage what hope remains.
Joe Keatinge hasn’t been on the scene for long, but he’s definitely one to watch– especially if these are the types of stories he can produce while working in mainstream comics. His dialogue is intelligent and natural, his characters are respected as heroes and human beings… And the themes of his stories have a relevance that is both relatable and foreboding. These What If? comics feature artificial intelligence, technology and scientific pursuits for a better world… And it’s perhaps our familiarity with these subjects that makes these stories so painful to read. There’s an overwhelming feeling of remorse/pain for our fallen heroes and a world that’s slipped out of our control– despite the best of intentions.
Amazingly (for today’s comics) the cover art for Age of Ultron #2 (by Christopher Stevens and Jean-Francois Beaulieu) tells the series’ entire backstory in one powerful, beautifully designed image. I try not to use the following word very often, but their vintage-style cover art has (thus far) been *epic*. Conversely, the interior art by Ramon Villalobos is very rustic in both penciling and colour… And unfortunately, it falls short. I had very high expectations for this series after being so impressed by Raffaele Ienco’s interiors for Issue #1– and this drastic change in presentation makes the series feel far less harmonious.
Overall, I’m still very impressed with What If? Age of Ultron– and I will definitely be following this series through to the bitter end… No matter what artist Marvel throws at me. - Danielle Young
Batman Eternal #1
Story/Script: Scott Snyder,
James Tynion IV
Consulting Writers: Ray Fawkes,
John Layman, Tim Seeley
Artist: Jason Fabok
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
$2.99, 20 pages
This will show everyone how much I pay attention to some things: I had no idea Batman Eternal was a weekly comic book until I read the news in Jose’s Who’s Getting What? column. To be blunt, a weekly Batman comic gives me mixed feelings. I’m curious to experience the story, especially since DC is pushing it as so big it can only be told in a weekly series. Hmpf. We’ll see about that. What I want to know: What’s so different about this tale that it can’t be told in any of the other 1,439,572 Batman titles already published every month?
Unfortunately, this first issue does little to answer my nagging questions. The first thing I notice is the story decompression… And the slow pace is already near-unforgivable. While a slightly slower lope might make sense for a weekly comic, I don’t find it any less irritating. In fact, the only thing saving this series from completely failing? The $2.99 cover price. (DC could’ve easily slapped a $3.99 price point and this comic and rabid Batman fans would’ve still bought every issue.)
As far as first comics go, this one does what all first issues need to do: Set up the story… And it did a decent job holding my attention. It also teased what could/may happen in the future, so I’m a little curious to see the progression and how quickly the story will get there. Per the plot: Something MAJOR happens to Gordon on some train tracks… And even though numerous deaths are involved, it still feels a little silly.
I really don’t know how all this will evolve into the massive story DC claims is coming… And I’m not sure if it’s going to be worth slapping down $3 every single week to find out. Based only on this first issue, the story seems thin– which really worries me. The weekly format is a double-edged sword: You often don’t have to wait too long for a story to pick up if it slows… But if it never does quicken, you start to feel the weight of the weekly price tag pretty quick.
Jason Fabok is one of my favorite (current) Batman artists… And I really like his work here. But that brings up another problem: I’m equally certain Fabok will not be drawing every single issue of this series. No artist alive (that I know of) can expertly draw a full comic book on a weekly basis. So the quality of the art (even with a rotation of artists) is another big “IF” for me too.
I also think it’s worth mentioning DC has yet another weekly series (Future’s End) coming in May. And while it’s not fair to compare two series that seem so totally different– I’m curious to see how the cost of two weekly series goes over with fans. Is DC pushing the creative envelope– or is the publisher just shoving loyal fans to the financial brink? In any case, I’ll hang with Batman Eternal for a few more weeks… But if it doesn’t pick up soon, I’ll jump off almost as quickly as I jumped on. - Aaron Evans
Writer: Joe Keatinge
Artist: Leila Del Duca
Colorist: Owen Giani
Letterer: Ed Brisson
21 pages, $2.99
The tagline for Shutter #1′s solicitation reads: “INDIANA JONES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY!”. I’ll admit it got my attention… Mainly because it wasn’t just telling me– it was SCREAMING at me. I get it. That’s one helluva good through-line to pull in readers. Shutter is a brand new creator-owned comic– so getting word out and building positive expectations is crucial. I can’t remember the last time a solicitation made me say, “I think I already want to buy the hell out of this book!” but this one did. Funny thing is, despite being a very captivating tagline– the quote still sells the comic way short.
Shutter is so much more than a well-crafted PR gimmick. Yes, it is a globe-trotting fantasy adventure story– but a very personal story is also tucked inside. Kate Kristopher is the last of her family’s lineage… A family who– for generations– has lived adventurous lives exploring all the planet has to offer. Still, even at the young age of 7, Kate begins to question whether this is the kind of life she wants to lead.
While Shutter’s world comes off as wondrous– Kate’s character is even more interesting– primarily because the unique surroundings seem so mundane to her. Now 27, she’s in a place where she’s still wondering where she fits. When her father died, so did her wild adventures– which included fighting alligator men in the sewers and taking on a kraken on a pirate ship.
The dialogue and story written by Joe Keatinge is more than a delight to read. It goes from being humorous to heartfelt to all out action-y without missing a beat. The art by Leila Del Duca is also spot on. She excels in bringing this fantastic imaginary world to life.
I am usually in the sad position of noting how writers and artists tend to overuse double splash pages– and then only create them as a way to take up space. Shutter #1 has THREE double splashes… But every single one seems essential to the story– and, more importantly, helps depict just how isolated Kate Kristopher feels. There’s a sense of loneliness and sadness portrayed in these pages only sequential art can convey. But that’s not to say Kate is written as a sad sack. The action-filled set piece in the last third of the book depicts a very confident, self-assured, multifaceted person too.
I’m really happy I took a chance on Shutter #1. Image Comics has published another great book… Yet another independent comic I already look forward to reading every month. - Jose Melendez
All-New Ultimates #1
Writer: Michel Fiffe
Artist: Amilcar Pinna
Colorist: Nolan Woodard
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
20 Pages, $3.99
When the “Cataclysm” crossover event began, there were rumors Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was finally about to be erased. It didn’t happen (of course) and what we’re left with is a rather new world with exclusive situations. But this question remains: How good is the new status-quo? Fortunately, from what I see in All-New Ultimates #1– Marvel may have just rejuvenated this once moribund line of comics.
For the first time in a long time, an Ultimates comic is entertaining and effective… Immersive from the get-go. Everything and everyone is properly and nicely introduced, with no heavy exposition in sight. Michel Fiffe’s storytelling skills are top-notch, thanks to a lot of organic transitions and pleasant dialogue. The script hits the right balance between incomprehensibly continuity-laden mess and scornfully exposition-heavy drudgery: Everything we need to know is provided, nothing more.
Let’s salute the presence of some very well-written humor too. The banter on display here is genuine and intelligent, not ham-fisted and sophomoric– and that’s quite rare in modern comics. Hats off to Fiffe for doing in one issue what Brian Michael Bendis hasn’t managed to accomplish in a decade of writing numerous monthly comics.
This new direction for the Ultimate Universe is intriguing. Professional organizations such as S.H.I.E.L.D (and the Ultimates) ceased to exist after Cataclysm, so it’s up to this small band of teenagers to pick up the slack. It’s a refreshing set-up– one that feels like a real change for once. (I love tales of novice superheroes à la Batman Year One.) A group of young lads learning the job through their mistakes– as opposed to watching banal old characters phoning their heroics in– is an appealing premise.
The back-to-basics approach– showcasing heroes with little or no back-up (they also lack powerful gadgets and hardware)– could prove quite liberating. In this issue alone, we watch them set up their (shabby) headquarters and install their own private communication devices. Plotwise, the lack of decompression is truly appreciable. A lot is said and done in these twenty pages– and the pace is fast and snappy. There isn’t a single splash page either, which helps a lot. You can also tell there’s genuine interest and love of the genre from Fiffe. The guy’s not here simply to cash paychecks. It’s go time– and the entire creative team obviously wants to deliver.
The comic has some solid art too, with lots of detail and precise backgrounds. Amilcar Pinna seems to really have fun drawing this brave new world. I’ve never enjoyed Miles Morales’ costume, but Pinna makes it look cool and sleek. (No small feat.) Some of Pinna’s drawn faces are extremely awkward and ugly though… The artist definitely needs to practice penciling facial features a bit more. (BTW, this is my only complaint.) Nolan Woodward’s popping colors are amazing too. He has a flair for dramatic atmospheres, and uses all his coloring skills to highlight clear-cut emotions and vibes… And his expert work on lights and shadows seals the deal.
I usually leave Marvel’s All-New #1′s with a sour taste in my mouth. For once I’m hooked and hungering to pick another issue! - Simon J. O’Connor