IMJ Capsule Reviews™ – All New Comic Book Reviews!

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Archer & Armstrong #0Archer and Armstrong #0
Desperate Times
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Clayton Henry
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colorist: David Baron
23 pages, $3.99

The only Valiant comic I’ve ever read before Archer and Armstrong #0 was Magnus Robot Fighter #2– and that was around about 1992 back in the old Jim Shooter days. I’ll steer clear of any of the controversy over creators’ rights and all that– sticking to what’s presented in this particular comic. I picked Archer and Armstrong because the new Valiant has been getting rave reviews and I wanted to start with something that would give me a glimpse of what’s on offer– rather than jump into the middle of the run. The other reason I picked it– honestly, the rest of this week’s releases are mediocre to garbage.

What we get in this zero issue is a framing piece of the duo in their Las Vegas penthouse, where Armstrong tells his origin story to Archer. He takes us back to ancient Sumeria, thousands of years ago when he and his two brothers (Ivar and Gilad) go on a quest to a mysterious land of eternal sunshine– where miraculous cures for diseases and plagues can be found. There are some similarities between the Hidden World and DC’s Warlord comic and Howard Chaykin’s The Shadow from the 80s, but the common elements are incidental rather than glaring.

Writer Fred Van Lente tells a relatively straightforward tale. That’s fine with me… This is a complete, self-contained, done-in-one story and as such, is a great introduction to the characters. Van Lente really shines here. Archer only appears for about 4 pages, but I found out enough about him to let me know what he’s like. Armstrong, being the main focus of the story, naturally gets  the most attention. In the framing piece, I had just marked him down as a rather simple carousing Hercules-type, but his backstory fleshed out a complex, intelligent person lurking beneath the brash exterior. The writer also differentiates him from Hercules by eschewing the blustering buffoonish dialogue of his Marvel Comics “cousin” for a straighter, subtler type of wit.

Clayton Henry’s art was fairly attractive overall, especially in the action sequences. I particularly liked the fight scenes in the Hidden World where Armstrong and his brothers were attacked by dinosaur-riding robots. This sequence had a good pace and flow. As with many artists these days who do all the art for a particular comic, I feel like Henry could do with heavier linework to make the characters stand out more from the backgrounds. I get the feeling this is heavy pencils done on computer– rather than pencil and ink. The colours by David Baron are outstanding. Baron’s work is bright without being glaring, and help give Henry’s art more substance.

I liked Archer and Armstrong #0 a lot, it was refreshingly different from the standard fare the Big Two publishers (Marvel & DC) are dishing out at the moment. Two thumbs up from me! – Locusmortis

Capsule Reviews 4 Star Rating

Batman & Red Hood #20Batman and Red Hood #20
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Patrick Gleason, Cliff Richards, Mick Gray, Mark Irwin
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
20 pages, $2.99

Admittedly, Batman and Robin… er… I mean Red Hood #20 was not one of my first choices to review this week. But it was agreed the comic would be a good follow-up to Ian’s review of the previous issue. I re-read his review to see the faults and flaws a different reviewer brought to light– and to see if they carried over… And they did. Honestly, you could go back and read Ian’s review and just replace a couple of words here and there allowing it to fit with Issue #20.

Carrie Kelly is once again forced into the story. Bruce Wayne lies to her face about the truth of Damian’s whereabouts. I didn’t expect him to just state Damian is dead, but to tell Carrie, “I’ll have him call you in a few days,” is strange and cruel. Maybe he thinks he will have found a way to bring Damian back to life by then… But Bruce Wayne is a smart man, why lie like that?

Instead of trying the Frankenstein revival method, Batman tricks Jason Todd into going to the place where he died… Hoping to jog Jason’s memory on how he was resurrected. This is just plain wrong!

Jason is rightly offended with Bruce trying to make him relive his worst day. But Wayne rationalizes that Jason would want to help him erase Damian’s death. This is somewhat understandable, but it’s also where my problems lie: Bruce was tormented by Jason Todd’s death for years… Feeling he had somehow wronged the boy– going so far as not wanting another Robin after Jason’s death. (The only reason Tim Drake was later allowed to become Robin? He figured out Bruce and Dick’s identities.) It’s reasonable to believe Bruce is trying to heal his own pain in Batman and Red Robin #20, but the guilt Jason’s death has burdened him with for ages should still resonate with the man. He should have known better than to bring Jason to the place where the Joker originally killed him.

Writer Peter J. Tomasi’s Bruce Wayne is definitely a man adrift, lacking what little reserve and decorum he may have once held while underneath the mask. And while he still may not kill (at least, not yet), he definitely stretches the idea of acceptable heroism here. I’ve always known a Batman intent on using the least harmful solution to stop his enemies– no matter what the circumstance. But here he decides to irrevocably maim the snipers responsible for Damian’s death by electrocuting their hands to such a severe extent their nerves no longer function. (He does this to prevent them from ever pulling a trigger again.) I didn’t know Batman could be so cruel. If he is, why didn’t he lobotomize the Joker years ago… Or develop a chemical that never allows Clayface to become solid?

By having Batman deliver such severe punishment, Tomasi seems to be saying Damian’s death is different than any of the other deaths associated with the Caped Crusader– because he was Bruce Wayne’s son. Okay, I get that. The death of a child is amplified a thousand fold when the child is yours. But what does this mean for Batman? Now that he’s not only captured criminals but also exacted swift and cruel punishment on them… Does this mean The Bat is going to start meting out “justice” in similar over the top ways against all his foes?

I also have two more words: Lazarus Pits. Ian mentioned them in his Batman & Robin #19 review as well. His son’s grandfather, Ra’s Al Ghul, has used them as a means of revival many times before. Are we to believe Bruce Wayne/Batman is so grief-stricken he can’t see the obvious possibilities in front of him– and enjoys torturing others (Frankenstein & Red Hood) more than simply launching a quest for one these mysterious pits?

Adding to my frustration: It’s quite clear the art in Batman and Red Hood #20 is the work of four different people (2 pencilers and 2 inkers.)– five, if you count the colourist. Work by committee is rarely effective, and this is a clear example why. The art is inconsistent and there is seemingly no effort given to make it good or distinctive. I see panels where the artists just drew the most basic outline of Red Hood and Batman– leaving the bulk of the work to the inkers and the colourist. Even then, most of the pages are filled in with black. This is one terrible looking comic book.

It is easy to understand what Tomasi is attempting to achieve with these “coping” issues, but it’s not working. Batman is one of– if not the most– rational person in the DC Universe. He has plans, backup plans, backup plans for his backup plans, ad infinitum. He has lost many people close to him before– and has always made it through. If anyone could figure out how to bring someone back from the dead, Batman is the person I’d vote for to probably do it. But you know how he would do it… By divorcing himself from his emotions, then making educated decisions– with a dash of daring and creativity. This is not the Batman I know… And until he returns, I will not be reading this comic. I suggest you do the same. – Nick Furi

Capsule Reviews Zero Star Rating

Suicide Squad #20Suicide Squad #20
Discipline and Punish Part 1
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Patrick Zircher
Colorist: Jason Keith
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
20 pages, $2.99

It always surprises me how little I actually know about certain aspects of mainstream superhero books. The amount of content one could consume is unfathomable. We all have our staples– our “go to” books– and that is where the majority of an individual’s comic knowledge resides. This causes some books, teams and characters to fall through the cracks. Suicide Squad did not have my attention, until now.

Establishing the Suicide Squad’s headquarters in Belle Reve (one of the things people familiar with DC Comics would know) makes a great deal of sense. Using this maximum security prison/asylum is a perfect way for the government to achieve plausible deniability. No sane person would want to set one foot through Belle Reve’s doors.

I am familiar with some of the characters in the book– my favourite being revealed on the last page. The Unknown Soldier and King Shark have a palpable sense of brutality flowing through them. (Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller and Deadshot are among the other characters I know.) If you understand what you’re getting yourself into with Suicide Squad, the combination of characters makes for entertaining interactions with random people, robots and each other. These personalities showcase just how unpredictable and dangerous this team can be.

The majority of Suicide Squad #20 is used as one really long set up to reveal the surprise character appearing on the final page. This is one of the few times when a little decompression actually enhanced the story. Don’t mistake me, many of the scenes could have been shortened or simplified… But these interactions inside give readers a chance to understand the magnitude of the team members’ insanity. This is especially true of the “secret” character at the end– as she/he is forcing the Suicide Squad to their breaking point.

My tastes for dark and gritty looking comics have changed– and not for the better. Because of this, Patrick Zircher and Jason Keith are not my favourite art duo. I have been using the words clean and crisp to describe a lot of comic art I’ve been enjoying recently. This elegance goes missing when you decide to go grunge. I understand a book like Suicide Squad may want this feel, but the bleakness still takes the wonder away from funny books. If you like lots of detail in your line art, then you will not be disappointed reading this comic. However, my favourite art moment comes when scrabble tiles fly in the air to create a sound effect. (I can’t recall the last time I saw a creative way to display sound effects in a comic.)

I wish I could talk more about the big reveal at the end, but then you wouldn’t have to read Suicide Squad #20 if I did. (Our goal at IMJ is to review a comic well enough for you decide if you want to buy it. We’ll leave the spoilers to some other site desperate for attention.) But I will say this: Seeing that character at the end made me want to pick up the next issue.

I definitely understand the appeal of a book like this. And the new creative team did a great job at keeping things simple, giving me the opportunity to learn about the characters and the team. But Suicide Squad isn’t that great. Some of the story is definitely contrived. Strangely, I still had fun reading the comic– but then I also knew exactly what I was getting myself into. – Nick Furi

Capsule Reviews 3 Star Rating

Avenging Spider-Man #20Avenging Spider-Man #20
Writer: Christopher Yost
Artist: Marco Checcetto
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
20 pages, $2.99

What a relief… A Spider-Man story that didn’t make we want to bash my head against a brick wall! I’m still not overly happy with the whole Doc Ock mind-swapping shenanigans but at least in Avenging Spider-Man, Dr. Octopus isn’t portrayed as the pervy scenery-chewing asshole Dan Slott is writing in the so-called “Superior” Spider-Man title.

In this issue, Spider-Man sets out to free his Sinister Six comrade the Chameleon from captivity on the SHIELD Helicarrier– under the guise of delivering a clutch of AIM scientists he’s just captured. As his plot to bring down the defences of the helicarrier is unleashed, a third party attacks– intent on killing the Chameleon. As you’d expect from Doc Ock, he can’t see beyond his own genius– so he doesn’t have a “Plan B” and thus manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

I enjoy Christopher Yost’s version of Spidey-Ock and there was plenty of action to enjoy– but that’s not to say the story wasn’t without problems. I felt the plotting was a bit choppy and flitted from scene to scene a bit too quickly. Also, I’m still not quite sure WHY Spidey-Ock wants to break the Chameleon out… I presume the reasoning will be revealed in the next issue, but it’s something I would have preferred to have addressed in Avenging Spider-Man #20.

I’ll also admit I liked how Yost was trying to have Ock adopt Peter Parker’s snappy witticisms– and the addition of vainglorious internal yelps of triumph when he manages to get in a funny line.

Avenging Spider-Man #20

The art by Mauro Checcetto told the story well enough, without ever managing to rise above being mundane and standard superhero-style art. There wasn’t a great deal of dynamism and energy or seemingly much thought or strategy behind the choice of panel layouts– every choice Checcetto made appeared to be rather random and aimless. Some of the likenesses were way off as well: Clint Barton, Black Widow and Bruce Banner (especially) could have been “Bystander No.1”– rather than the characters we as fans know so well. The coloring and lettering were effective, without doing anything extra special either.

I’ll mark this issue as a qualified success… If the story had been a bit less choppy and the art a bit more accomplished, then it might have gotten a slightly higher score than the rather average one I’m awarding it. – Locusmortis

Capsule Reviews 3 Star Rating

Chin Music #1Chin Music #1
Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Tony Harris
Colorist: Tony Harris
Letterer: Bill Tortolini
22 pages, $2.99

Image Comics is a strange beast. I’ve been collecting all their New #1 comics as of late– in an effort to make sure I don’t miss anything exceptional. (My goal is to continue to look for new, entertaining books wherever I can.) After reading a first issue, I then decide if I’m going to add the series to my pull list. To be blunt, many of the books I read don’t make it to the second issue (with me.) But I don’t think most of the comics I fail to spark to are bad– I just chalk up my indifference to personal preference.

So I guess the question is: Will I add Chin Music to my pull list after reading the first issue? The answer is: Absolutely! It is awesome.

A sense of intriguing mysticism infuses Chin Music #1– as a detective character performs a ritual by carving symbols onto a bullet and a table. The resulting ceremony leads to a fantastic ending for a first issue.

I could potentially see other readers not liking this introductory story– mainly because I find it near impossible to explain the plot. (Not understanding a comic isn’t always a problem for me.) Steve Niles creates a world I don’t fully understand– but because he possesses such savvy talent, I don’t care. There’s enough story to keep me interested even if I don’t have every detail. Here’s my stab at explaining: A detective into magic is trying to take down some mobsters– and there are some random other dudes with powers. I think the magical detective is involved with these super-powered people, but I don’t know exactly how.

I don’t know about you but I like not knowing everything. Hidden details allow for my imagination (and speculation) to prosper. I’m positive we’ll get our answers down the road and I don’t need my story spoon-fed to me. I appreciate when writers dangle carrots in front of my face– and pull them away at the very last moment– providing I get some payoff some day. As I approached the end of the Chin Music #1, I was actually getting nervous… Wondering how Niles was going to end the comic. Every page turn made me more anxious, just waiting for anything– answers, more questions, who is actually going to be the main character, what do all these plots threads have to do with each other? The last page blew my mind and left me in agony having to wait another month to pick up Issue #2.

Artist Tony Harris deserves just as much credit as Niles does for this comic. I’m a sucker for imaginative layouts. They don’t have to be crazy different, but in a time when we see new comics coming out in droves– with much of what is being produced having little thought or emotion– creative layouts are always refreshing. I also love when an artist takes extra care to match the style of the story being told. These efforts always enhance the end product… And are crucial in allowing readers to immerse themselves into entirely new worlds.

While trying to come up with a good close for this review, I looked up the solicitation for Chin Music #1. (I hadn’t read it before purchasing, reading or writing my critique for this comic.) If my review doesn’t convince you to go buy this first issue, go read the publisher’s solicitation– even that is awesome.
– Nick Furi

Capsule Reviews 4.5 Star Rating

Free Comic Book Day Logo

The Strangers #1 FCBDThe Strangers #1 FCBD
The Purloined Leader
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artist: Scott Kowalchuk
Colorist: Dan Jackson
Letterer: Ed Brisson
26 pages, Free

I had a hard time deciding if I liked The Strangers #1 or not. The idea of trying to put a twist on classic comic book tropes is a risky idea… As the creators tempt dangerous comparisons to some time-honored classics. Creating a book with plot and characters that exude the musky stank of comicdom’s Bronze Age– all in a brand new story– is not something I think most writers and artists would actively strive for (or have the balls to attempt.) Then again, Chris Roberson and Scott Kowalchuk’s comic might actually feel very fresh to the new comic book readers who come out in droves for Free Comic Book Day.

The beginning of The Strangers #1 drops me into the middle of the fray– as a three person team saves the day from some pageant girls attempting to take over the world. (You read that correctly.) Shortly after this rumble, the team is called to take on a “new” challenge– and this is where the majority of my problems lie with the plot… As it seems rehashed from various older comics.

I get the overused idea of a “double” impersonating a country’s President. I’m also hit with an Indiana Jones/X-Men/Many Other Comics vibe as the bad guys are digging up some ancient ruins– possibly even alien. (Okay, maybe that’s more like an X-Men comic.) A stereotypical acronym is used for the villainous group (O.C.C.U.L.T.)– but we don’t even get told what it stands for! (Of course, that’s probably a completely planned decision.) I don’t usually feel this way when I look at one artist’s work on two completely different books, but this comic has the same basic style and feel of artist Kowalchuk’s Intrepids comic. This, again, may be entirely intentional– as Scott’s art has great 60/70s stylization. Nevertheless, there seems to be very little variation from The Intrepids… So instead of experiencing something new, I feel like I’m reading a different interpretation of his other work.

But there are some things inside The Strangers I really did enjoy even if these tropes are also a bit overused. I feel like I have given enough of the plot already, so this next bit is meant to intrigue: A man turns into a monster/alien, random antagonists appear… And there’s a traitor in the mix? These things– and more!– can be found within the pages of The Strangers. (Could I write comic book descriptions for Diamond’s Previews Magazine or what?!)

Notably, this is the first comic to make me realize just how much the colourist can matter. And Dan Jackson carries the brunt of the art workload here… As Kowalchuk’s character outlines are extremely simple. (All of the shading appears to be done in the colouring phase, which makes me think that there wasn’t much detail to the artist’s pencils.) To be clear, I’m not bashing Kowalchuk’s art… I am actually saying these two artists work great together. There is not much detail within these pages, but the two teamed together are more than enough to create a “pretty” comic. With the exception of some long necks and other anatomy problems (I always feel odd critiquing artwork, as I can barely draw a stick figure…) the art in The Strangers is wonderful.

For a FCBD book, The Strangers is definitely worth the price. (In case you didn’t catch that, I was just imitating the pun-heavy, jokey, 60s Adam West/Batman atmosphere of the comic.) The only thing I fear is the $3.99 price tag for Issue #2. It was smart for Oni Press to offer this first issue for free. I always think free (or cheap) Number One issues are great– it gives the consumer a chance to try a comic with little or no consequence. I will check out the next issue (if I can remember), in order to determine if the story takes enough chances and distinguishes/separates itself from the rehashed ideas I noted above. If it doesn’t, it will most likely still be a fun book… Just not one I will continue to pick up.

I’ll be here next week at the Same Capsule Time, Same Capsule Channel.
– Nick Furi

Capsule Reviews 3 Star Rating

Sesame Street FCBDSesame Street FCBD
Strawberry Shortcake FCBD
Creators: ?!? (Ask Red’s Daughter)
? pages (Ask Red’s Daughter), FREE

Blame the Kentucky Derby, but I missed Free Comic Book Day this year.

HOWEVER, my sons still managed to sneak in a trip to one of the local shops, and they brought me back a… Sesame Street comic! Actually, they brought it back for their baby sister and it’s half Sesame, half Strawberry Shortcake.

I’d like to give you a more in-depth report, but she’s barely put the comic down. From what I did see, the colors are vivid and the characters are familiar– at least on the Sesame side of the book… Where there seems to be some sort of plot going on between Super Grover and Elmo. (Of course they roll out Super Grover for a comic book!)

Who’s more heroic on “The Street” than this old school “I was a blue man when Blue Men weren’t cool” zany do-gooder. My daughter still hasn’t discovered the Strawberry Shortcake side of the book, and every time I pick it up I get a fervent “DAT’s MINE!” that prevents me from discovering more at the present time.

As if that weren’t enough fun, imagine my delight in learning post-FCBD that there’s an ad for a comic I contributed to inside the Steam Engines of Oz freebie from Arcana. Missed out on a free copy? No sweat, it’s free digitally on Comixology! – Red Tash

Marble Season FCBDMarble Season FCBD
Creator: Gilbert Hernandez
25 pages, Free

A little confession to begin this review… I thought Marble Season was a done-in-one FCBD story. Turns out, it’s a 25-page preview for a much longer graphic novel… But I feel I can still write a full review without experiencing the entire story– these 25 pages are that good! Marble Season is only my second Drawn & Quarterly comic. (The first being Wilson by Daniel Clowes— which I recommend.) Other Drawn & Quarterly titles which have been praised and recommended by Ian on IMJ are Aya Love in Yop City and New York Drawings (which Locusmortis also touted.)

Marble Season is Gilbert Hernandez’ semi-autobiographical creation. The story concerns a kid in simpler times– no internet, video games, iPhones, etc. Kids are playing outside with marbles (go figure), enjoying baseball, reading funny books, talking Superman and having secret clubs. I’m still pretty young, but I can relate to doing all of those things. It’s great to remember a time when we didn’t need to know everything the instant it happens. The comic reminded of the carefree attitude kids have… When hanging out with friends and having fun was all that mattered.

The part I connect with the most: The main character, Huey, pretends to be Captain America and wants to perform a play in his backyard. I may not have chosen Captain America nor put on a play, but hell… Did I ever love dreaming about being heroes. Anywhere I could, I would imagine myself as Batman, Wolverine, Goku, anyone– and I would wage amazingly gigantic battles. (I still kind of do it on a lesser scale… I pretend I have telekinesis or I’m using the Force on automatic sliding doors. :D) And if you’re reading this review, I bet you can relate to this as well.

The art has a resemblance to the work of Bob Montana or Bil Keane. It’s very simple, but features very fun character designs with awesome facial expressions. All characters are easily distinguishable. It is very refreshing to experience Hernandez’ art– when the majority of the comics I read are filled with unnecessary artistic details that sometimes overtakes the story being told.

Rarely have I ever read a comic book preview that made me feel like I needed to read the rest of the story. But there are always exceptions– and Marble Season is mine. I actually got a little angry I was only getting 25 of the entire 120 pages. (But then, the comic was free– so freeloaders can’t really whine.) I was immediately grabbed at the title page and the good feelings continued through the entire book. This is a perfect example of a how to properly use a FCBD issue to entice readers to purchase a full story.

But forget the FCBD issue– and buy the entire graphic novel when it’s released. I had loads of fun reading the Marble Season FCBD edition but you have to trust me… If you read the this preview comic, you’ll be mad you didn’t take my advice… Since you’ll have to wait for the graphic novel to hit stores before finishing the rest of Hernandez’ excellent story. – Nick Furi

Capsule Reviews 3.5 Star Rating

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2 Responses to IMJ Capsule Reviews™ – All New Comic Book Reviews!

  1. Red Tash says:

    I’m still persona non-Elmo.

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