Punk Rock Jesus #3
Writer & Artist: Sean Murphy
I’m aware the following review is quite vague, but please know I wrote it this way on purpose.
The concept behind Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus is both good and interesting. In the year 2019, an entertainment company named Ophis creates a reality show which follows the daily life of the world’s first human clone… A clone of Jesus Christ. Think of the film The Truman Show— only with more politics, religion, corporate greed… And more acute precision-point satire of the cult of celebrity.
Of course, an interesting concept alone is not enough to make a comic, novel or film good or interesting. Everything hinges on how the ideas and concepts are executed. Thankfully, all of these elements fall perfectly into place for Punk Rock Jesus. Sean Murphy’s immense talent has never been more evident than it is on every single page of this comic book.
There are certain comics and films that I hold in very high regard. When I recommend these films and comics to people, I sometimes don’t tell them what they are about… As I feel they are things that need to be experienced first hand. I feel this way about Punk Rock Jesus. No synopsis of this book can convey how amazing this comic is. I do not want to write about the protagonists or the antagonists and what struggles they have to undergo. I want you to read these comics.
Art is a subjective medium. When I write comic reviews, I am prone to severely critique them more than anything else. It’s easy for me to review a comic I think is bad. (It always has been.) It is much more difficult for me to properly write about a comic I truly love. I believe this has a lot to do with what happens when I find a book’s subject matter becomes personal to me… And I think Punk Rock Jesus is truly a work of art many may interpret differently.
This series has everything I look for in a comic. Stunning (and I mean STUNNING) art, perfect sequential storytelling, amazing designs, copious amounts of detail found in every panel, engaging emotional moments and characters I am very interested in and care about– good or evil. I like stories with a dark tone, with an underlying sense of sadness and depression. These are all of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy Punk Rock Jesus on every level. You may feel the same or you may think differently. Either way, I believe if you love comics, you owe it to yourself to experience this series. – Jose Melendez
Conan The Barbarian #7 & #8
Border Fury Parts 1 & 2
Writer: Brian Wood
Artists: Becky Cloonan (Pt 1)
Vasilis Lolos (Pt 2)
Before I begin reviewing the first two parts of the Border Fury story arc from Conan The Barbarian #7 & #8, let me (unnecessarily) repeat that I am all for female empowerment. I love women and I gravitate toward female-centric entertainment: Television series (Alias), Films (Winter’s Bone), Music (P!nk) and Comics (Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, etc). Looking over this very short list, it’s easy to see I like women who kick ass too.
I also really like Brian Wood. If there’s one thing the man can write (and he can write many things well), Wood can write for women. He’s got their “voice” down. Their intentions. Their mannerisms. He can also write great tales of barbarians… With his Vertigo comic Northlanders being one of my all-time favorites.
That’s why I was so stoked to hear of Wood’s run on Conan the Barbarian and why I couldn’t be expected to wait for the trade when we started Capsule Reviews. I just had to read one of Wood’s comics this week… Mainly because I love Robert E. Howard’s Bêlit, The Pirate Queen of the Black Coast… Who is featured prominently in the Border Fury storyline.
Maybe I should have waited. The stories are still strong, but lack something I am going to call a “Conan-ness” about them. This empty feeling comes from several directions, but the primary offenders are big ones— the art and the story. Becky Cloonan (artist for Border Fury Part 1) has drawn some great comics with Brian Wood for the indie market (Demo Volumes 1 & 2, Channel Zero). Cloonan even provided the art for Wood’s great Northlanders Volume 5: Metal. But here, her Conan lacks visual oomph and command… A presence. I understand this is a young Cimmerian, but sadly I don’t see Conan the way Cloonan does.
And the visuals only become less stunning when Vasilis Lolos takes over on art with Border Fury Part 2. His Conan seems even slighter, his Bêlit even less majestic.
This is partly due to the insistence of all involved to stick as close to realism as possible. Wood, Cloonan and Lolos see Howard’s snow-covered Cimmeria as dank and desolate– without charm, adventure or fury. This brings a solemnity to the proceedings, bogging down the narrative and throwing a blanket on the natural charisma inherent in the characters– when wonder and action are all I ask for.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for character development and realism. But I feel this is a Conan comic— and I have seen many a writer give Conan and his companions plenty of depth without slowing the pace of the story to a crawl. Maybe that’s the problem here. If I were sitting down to read this story as another tale in the now (criminally) cancelled Northlanders series, I wouldn’t have had anything but praise for it. But since this is a Conan comic, I expect– Nay, Demand!— more action.
Instead Wood gives us several long stretches highlighting Bêlit’s suffering in the cold climate and strangeness of Cimmeria. It’s riveting in its own way, in its Northlanders’ way… Just not in a Conan The Barbarian way. Wood punctuates the end of Bêlit’s long character studies (in both issues!) with a page or two of story that foreshadows the inevitable confrontation between Conan and a virtual doppelgänger who is ravaging the Cimmerian countryside in Conan’s name.
That’s great, but let’s get on with the Barbarian already. – Ian MacMillan
He-Man Masters of the Universe #2
Writers: James Robinson, Keith Giffen
Artists: Philip Tan, Howard Porter, Ruy José, John Livesay
I picked up the first issue of this comic last month with some hesitation. He-Man is much like Superman in a sense. Both are characters who have seen many versions throughout history– with mixed results. I think a lot of the incongruity comes from the difficulty of writing about heroes that are the most powerful beings in their respective universes… And while the Man of Steel’s personality has yo-yoed all over the place this past year, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has decided to do something different with the Defender of Grayskull.
Adam (He-Man) has lost all memories of his life and currently believes he is a normal woodsman. Obviously, this is a plot perpetrated by the series’ main villain Skeletor. As Adam begins to remember things from his past, he sets off to discover the meaning of these thoughts and images… Never realizing Skeletor has exhorted his henchmen to destroy Adam at first sight. Issue #1 features Adam’s battle with Beast-Man. This issue has a knock-down a fight with Trap-Jaw.
Adam is left on his own here– no powers, no Sword of Grayskull… But soon discovers he has knowledge and weaponry training. But that’s it. Adam is able to get away from Beast-Man by himself, but needs the help of Teela (also possessing no memories of her past) to get away from Trap-Jaw.
While I haven’t watched it yet, I think this version of He-Man is still based on the most recent animated show that aired on the Cartoon Network a few years ago. Because of this, fans of any He-Man version will easily fall into the story. Thankfully, the comic isn’t plagued by moral tales for four-year-olds (like the original show). I still love that series, but it is definitely a bit harder to watch as an adult.
The comic version of Skeletor is as much a vicious leader of his underlings as he is an enemy. There is a great scene at the beginning Issue #2— where Beast-Man tries to explain to the evil leader why Adam got away. As Beast-Man talks, Skeletor begins to eat a piece of fruit. With each bite, he causes extreme pain to Beast-Man. The book also features a noticeably younger Adam– with a youthful personality to match. But he’s not a twerpish teen character like many in the DC New 52 comics. He’s just a bit more carefree and reckless than the 80s cartoon Prince Adam.
The story and the art are on the same level… Decent for the most parts, with high-points throughout the issue. Philip Tan’s art works well and brings a sense of Conan The Barbarian to the story– especially when paired with Robinson and Giffen’s script. There is a realism to the characters, story and setting. It’s not spectacular, but if you were to compare it to anything else DC put out this week, it is better than most. Unlike the mostly stagnant New 52, everyone involved here seems willing to try something new– putting in the effort to push and grow these characters, even though He-Man’s spent nearly 30 years on the market. Every creator working on DC’s New 52 comics should really check out this series– if only to see what the whole reboot was supposed to accomplish. – W.D. Prescott
Saucer Country #7
The Blue Bird Perspective
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: David Lapham
Saucer Country is on the verge of becoming the next awesome 60+ issue comic series from Vertigo. Out of the new books they’ve recently started, this is the only one that has a shot. SC centers around a Mexican-American woman running for President– who is abducted by aliens. It’s filled with great ideas and has a great hook– even if writer Paul Cornell (Captain Britain & MI:13, Demon Knights) hasn’t gone beyond that yet.
The Blue Bird Perspective features another guest artist. This time it’s David Lapham— doing a great job (as always). The particular story concentrates on the past history of the “BlueBirds”, the old WWII Fighter Pilot group. In this world, the pilots have been investigating UFO’s. It’s a fun issue filled with lots of information about the history between America and Aliens… Even if it doesn’t move the book’s main story anywhere.
Ironically, I picked Issue #7 to review because Issue #6 also had a guest artist and a one-off story. (Which, coincidentally, also centered around with America’s history with Aliens and UFOs.) Anyway, I expected the next story arc to start with this current issue– but that didn’t happen. I don’t know why they are publishing so many one-and-done stories in a row, unless Paul Cornell and Vertigo just really want series’ regular artist Ryan Kelly to draw the main story. Hopefully, this break will give Kelly time to get ahead of schedule. As entertaining as these one-off history dumps are, by Issue #7 I was hoping to be deeper into the book’s main plot line.
I will continue to pick up Saucer Country because I believe the future of this comic is very promising. But I wonder what other readers in this fickle market will do. It definitely seems like a bad idea to publish two fill-in issues so early in the run– just as the story is getting started. – Tom Devine
Batman and Robin #0
Someday Never Comes
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray
Here we go again. I specifically read this book because I’m a huge fan of Peter J. Tomasi’s writing and hoped he’d make one of these #0 comics proud. He’s one of a handful of current comic book scripters with the rare ability to turn shit titles into something worth reading. Batman and Robin is not one of the shit books I’m referring to, of course… And never has been. So I was excited to read the origin story of how top-shelf characters like the New 52 Batman meets and teams up with the New 52 Robin.
Except I didn’t get that. I got the origin of Damian Wayne instead. Batman doesn’t even appear until the book’s second to last page.
To make matters worse, there’s nothing terribly new or original in this story. It could have easily appeared as part of the old DC Universe. Tomasi still makes the comic as entertaining as he can– even if, as usual, I think the book relies on too many information deficient double page spreads for a 20 page story. There are also a couple of “What the Hell?” moments too: Like the story’s title (I still don’t understand what it refers to after reading the comic twice)… And exactly what Talia al Ghul was attempting to prove or accomplish by placing just-born Damian in a pool. If he floats, he’s worthy of life? If he drowns, he’s not? If he can look death in the face without flinching, he’s got “steel in his eyes”? He’s a newborn baby for christsakes… Their eyes don’t actually focus for DAYS after being born!
Patrick Gleason offers solid artwork… Expressive in parts and easy to follow. This helps ease my pain over the repetitive plot.
I’ve gotta continue to wonder what was going through the minds of the DC execs who first thought up these Zero issues– as very few seem to be fulfilling their original intentions or their obligations. How could DC publish a Batman and Robin “origin” book focusing only on Robin– and expect to satisfy the majority of their readership? My rating reflects this mislabeled comic… As the story only helps define half of the Dynamic Duo. – Ian MacMillan
Bright New Yesterday (main story)
Tomorrow (back-up story)
Writers: Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV
Artists: Greg Capullo, Jonathan Glapion, Andy Clark
Off the top, I just want to say I believe Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo always bring quality to Batman. No matter what they write or what weirdo situation editorial decrees put them in– they always seem to come up with a comic worth reading. One caveat: This is coming from the guy who still has not read the Night of Owls issues. (I do plan to, but I was burnt out on Talons by the time that event started.)
That being said, this issue– while still keeping the quality– felt like a filler issue that Snyder was told to write because DC Comics mandated this Zero Month debacle. And considering the other #0 issues I’ve read– while I don’t think this particular story was needed, it still wasn’t a bad read. Basically, Snyder does just enough to keep his string of good stories intact.
Thankfully it wasn’t an origin issue either, because, really… Do we need another Batman origin issue? It does take place, though, before Bruce dons the cowl of The Bat. And it is a much different Bruce than we are used to seeing– as he’s living in a Crime Alley brownstone… Just beginning to take on Gotham’s criminal element. His first target: The Red Hood Gang. Bruce finds a way in as a member, but doesn’t play the part well… Causing The Red Hood to spot his ineptitude instantly. Bruce barely escapes, dodging the gang and police… And that’s it. This plot takes up only half the story… With the other half focused on Alfred attempting to guide his charge into seeing the bigger picture– past his single-minded thirst for retribution. There’s also a long conversation with Lieutenant James Gordon.
Still quality art, still quality writing– but I didn’t care about this story. Had it stopped there, I might have given this comic an extra half star… But then, here comes the backup story.
This is another prime example of why I think back-up stories are one of the most asinine practices in current comics. The story was the origin of the Bat Signal. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying $3.99– I want my extra dollar to be about something more than the origin of an appliance. Despite writer James Tynion IV and artist Andy Clark’s best efforts, I felt I spent an extra dollar to watch someone flip the Bat Signal on.
Whoopty-friggin-do. – W.D. Prescott
The Massive #4
Black Pacific Part 1: “Mog”
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Garry Brown
The world of The Massive takes place after Earth has undergone a series of environmental disasters known as The Crash. In the first few caption boxes on the first page of Issue #4, readers get the facts established in the first 3 issues of the title. We are told “Global economies have collapsed, world capitals have been destroyed, communications were interrupted, and food and water supplies were compromised.”
The story follows the crew of the Kaptial– a sea vessel that’s part of the Ninth Wave environmentalist group– as they search for their sister ship, the Massive.
Writer Brian Wood has a knack for telling stories based in reality. Whether the story is a slice of life or one of ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary event– his writing rarely, if ever, fails to impress me. While the first 3 issues of this series were used to introduce us to crew of the Kapital, Wood also added backstory to explain the environment the cast is surrounded by. Whether information about The Crash is told in actual story flashbacks– or in supplemental material found in the back of every issue (which usually covers four pages)– Wood does an excellent job of fleshing out this world. The amount of effort put into adding all this information does make for an overall better reading experience. It particularly pays off immensely in this issue, as more time can be devoted to character development.
Almost the entirety of The Massive #4 is devoted to the captain of the Kapital, Callum Israel. Callum is in Mogadishu, Somalia (which is now the largest black market in eastern Africa) to barter for fuel, water and a steady resupply source for his ship. As the story plays out, we’re shown the politics of this new world order– while we also get pieces of Callum’s past to better understand the man… From where and how he was raised to his former job as a PMC soldier.
Storytelling and dialogue are sharp. I would even go so far to say the dialogue between Callum and Arkady (Callum’s former partner while in the PMC Blackwell) is the best I have read in a comic all year. Arkady wants Callum’s ship and is willing to take it from him by force. It is intelligent, witty, intense and goes a long way in defining who Callum Israel is now– compared to who he used to be.
As a comic reader, character development like this makes all the difference in the world to me. If the writer cares enough to make his creations this real and interesting– it makes my caring for their work that much easier.
This issue’s art is handled by Garry Brown, who’s work I am not familiar with. His style reminds me of Sean Phillips, with a hint of Tomm Cocker. I was a bit worried when I noticed Kristian Donaldson (the amazing artist of the first 3 issues), wasn’t on art here… But after a seeing a few pages of Brown’s work, I was put at ease… As his art fits the story perfectly. It really is quality stuff. Having Dave Stewart on colors doesn’t hurt a bit either.
The Massive is one of those comics where the story can be considered to be a slow burn… But there is enough substance and style to it that will keep me reading for the foreseeable future. – Jose Melendez
Resurrection Man #0
Face the Truth
Writers: Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Artists: Ramon Bachs, Jesus Saiz
These DC New 52 Zero Comics are so weird. I apparently didn’t get the memo about what they are supposed to be about or what they are supposed to accomplish. This issue of the Resurrection Man is the weirdest head trip so far. Hell, the regular RM series has been cancelled for a while now… So what’s the point of publishing this cancelled #0 book alongside other comics like The Phantom Stranger #0— series that will be replacing the already cancelled comics in DC’s line-up?
Oh, I get it. I think Resurrection Man #0 actually replaces what would have been Issue #13 (the last comic in the cancelled series was #12). Anybody who feels differently will have a hard time convincing me otherwise (even if I haven’t read the preceding twelve issues yet)– because RM #0 reads just like the last issue of a comic book run.
So what we have here is a case DC re-numbering the final issue of a comic with the number Zero– in hopes of goosing sales as part of a line-wide, month-long Zero Issue event. In short, it’s a numbering trick meant to tie a failing series to a publishing stunt. My, my DC… You are becoming more like Marvel Comics every single day, aren’t you? (Quit smiling. That last line was not a compliment.)
The good news (for me, at least) is Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning wrote this book… And I like their writing. (If you missed their work with Marvel’s cosmic characters– you missed a treat… And one of the main reasons Marvel Studios ever considered the Guardians of the Galaxy as a film property.) The other piece of good news: Abnett & Lanning actually get around to giving us an actual explanation as to why/how the Resurrection Man even exists– thereby also giving us a defacto origin story.
The reason I feel so strongly this story was simply meant to wrap up the series– and was never originally planned as a Zero Issue– along with the character origin/explanation, the story seems to tie up a LOT of loose ends. And here’s the kicker… Although Ramon Bachs draws the first 19 pages… Jesus Saiz inexplicably draws the final page, which also serves to open up possibilities for future adventures.
Like any series wrap-up that refuses to bring the proceedings to a close with dignity, simplicity and finality… This story comes off as lame and calculating (even if it is also exciting in parts). It is confusing in spurts too– as if there was a struggle when deciding exactly how to end the various sub-plots.
I don’t know about the rest of the IMJ Nation™, but I am beginning to DESPISE these new twenty page comics. The current crop of writers just can’t seem to structure and tell a decent, fulfilling story in these shortened books… Which makes sense when you remember the decision to publish fewer pages per issue was based on a financial motive, instead of a creative one. Abnett, Lanning and the character all deserved a few more panels/pages to end this comic on more of a superlative note. – Ian MacMillan
The Shade #12
Times Past: 1838 Family Ties
Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Gene Ha
I love The Shade.
I came to my love the same way most people did, through the comic Starman… A rare DC comic book that tells the entire life story of a superhero. By that I mean Starman showed a full beginning, middle and end to the title character. While it may seem crazy that this kind of studied, planned approach is rare in comics, in the world of superheroes and ongoing continuity– trust me, it is rare.
When James Robinson said he was finished writing Starman, many wondered if the writer or the character would ever return… But we haven’t heard from the hero (or his baby) since. The writer has come back, if only tangentially… And it is great fun to see the world and characters of Starman’s Opal City again– even if the hero is absent. (In all fairness, I should tell you I’ve had a strong connection with Shade and this world from the beginning and my final rating reflects this bias.)
This issue, even though it is the last book in the series, revolves around how The Shade came to be. We get the full backstory of Richard Swift— the man who becomes The Shade. The story starts in 1838, with Richard being besties with Charles Dickens— and shows how they get into some trouble. A man named Simon Culp lures Swift into the dark arts, eventually turning Swift into The Shade. That’s the basic story– all summed up… Yet it took me 35 minutes to read this comic… And it’s only 20 pages.
While reading, I got the distinct feeling Robinson knew this could be the last time he writes in the Starman world for a long time– and he wanted to get out every thought he had. Almost every page is covered in words from top to bottom. Since I am such a fan of the Starman comic, this allowed me to really get into the character of The Shade and stay there for a while… And I loved it. If you’ve never read Starman— and you jumped on board The Shade series without any prep or knowledge of Starman history– I’m betting you’re pretty pissed right about now. I could even understand why someone might think this last issue was bad. Sorry, that’s not how I feel.
Even though this comic was a long, deep read– I loved every minute I spent with it. – Tom Devine
Demon Knights #0
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Bernard Chang
Demon Knights has been the one comic I felt I could count on since the New 52 started… And I think it helps immensely that the book is set so far in the past. Its relevance to the rest of the current comics is minuscule– allowing Paul Cornell freedom with his stories the rest of the DCU creators wish they had.
This Issue #0 centers solely on the Etrigan and Jason Blood dynamic– and the circumstances in which they were bound together. Can you believe that?! A DC origin issue with an actual origin story in it!
Etrigan rightfully gets most of the love in this issue… Since he spends most of the story attempting to usurp Lucifer as King of Hell. I think this issue was much-needed, because the series hasn’t given Etrigan much motivation or character beats. (He normally appears only for brief moments and mainly for battle sequences). His gathering the demon tribes under his banner– for the sole purpose of marching on Lucifer– gives Etrigan that anti-hero background he’s been lacking so far in DC’s new universe.
One quick aside: There’s a great panel with Etrigan facing off against Lucifer– where Lucifer says, “Oh dear. I was hoping your rhymes had improved. All those prose demons and not one editor.” Don’t ask me why, but it struck me funny reading those lines– especially in a DC comic.
This story also gave a good reason for why Jason and Etrigan were bonded together. They were both very similar in nature: Poets wishing for a high station, wrathful, ambitious and thorns in the sides of those above them (Lucifer and Merlin). For anyone coming into this series fresh, I think The Prologue was a great idea– because you can see how Etrigan and Blood started as the same, basic character… And can now watch the two grow in different ways.
Paul Cornell’s writing is consistently good. I would rank his Demon Knights scripts a close second to Simon Furman’s Transformers: Regeneration One stories. And the Bernard Chang art helped tremendously. I’ve enjoyed the art team of Diógenes Neves and Oclair Albert up to last issue, but I don’t know if this story would have had the same impact if it wasn’t for Chang’s art. There is a better use of shadow– in both ink and color– that helps tie together the stories of both Jason and Etrigan… Creating the atmosphere of both being trapped in their own separate, personal hells– only to be trapped inside one another at the end. – W.D. Prescott