Red Hood and the Outlaws #31
The Big Picture
Writer: Will Pfeifer
Artists: Rafa Sandoval, RB Silva
Colorist: Matt Yackey
Letterer: Travis Lanham
20 Pages, $2.99
The more comic book reviews I write– the harder it becomes to write them. I never could figure out why, until now. The rising difficulty level can be summed up by one single fact: Most comics are absolutely empty. And guess what… Reviewing nothing ain’t easy.
A good example of this emptiness would be Red Hood and the Outlaws #31. This comic is basically a huge pile of zero… Obviously only written because someone dictated it must be so. There’s a Faustian contract obligating this comic to be created, so here it is. Simple as that. And since the author himself knows his story isn’t interesting, he understandably stalls and fills twenty pages… With passionless naught.
So what am I left with to review? A sorry product of Sturgeon’s Law? A sad consequence of Capitalism… The pathetic necessity to flood a small market with products for the sake of answering an economic demand for profits?
I’m not sure how to find a meaning in all this. To quote Nietzsche, “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” And the longer I stare into this “comic”, the clearer it seems books like RHATO #31 are little but a cry for help… Because titles like this aren’t meant to insult readers, they’re simply swan songs of wounded writers forced– either by lack of talent, a bad turn of events, lack of ambition or devious Fate itself– to produce these turds as some sort of eternal punishment for crimes long forgotten, yet still echoing through time and space… Slights still yearning for retribution.
At least the above conjecture provides a few ways to make sense of this mess. Seriously, what else could possibly explain the awfully shitty fake science on display throughout this story? (No, Will Pfeifer, you absolutely cannot tap into a black hole and take energy from it!) What else could justify the cringeworthy, awkward dialogue? What else could possibly vindicate the atrociously underwhelming ending? Not even the soulless DC house art style offers something to praise.
If I think a little bit more about these empty comics, I see them as a cry for action too… A sign that, if not us– then who will fight against the destructive trail left by these hacks and the greedy tycoons? See, you can bestow positive meaning to almost everything… Even if you can’t always escape the muck that surrounds it. There are still hidden gems amongst the shit. By reading and dissecting crap, we can all learn lessons to better the comic book medium. With enough hope, we can turn lead into gold.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #31 is utter shite, alright. So Reader, I ask you: What awesome story will you create to balance the tipping scales? – Simon J. O’Connor
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letters & Design: Fonografiks
22 pages, $2.99
My favorite comic book is finally back!
Yes, Saga is my favorite comic. I’m a sucker for big, grand adventure stories peppered with high stakes action. But don’t think my love for the adventure/fantasy genre has somehow blinded me into liking this comic. It really is a well-written book… And this new issue is very new reader friendly too– while also giving longtime readers plenty to enjoy.
It was nice to ease into this new story after a 4 month hiatus… But this comic is not slow. Brian K. Vaughan sets up his new story arc fast, dropping a huge cliffhanger at the end. You know you’re invested in the characters and the story when something big happens– and you audibly gasp a little. Vaughan and extraordinary artist Fiona Staples are great at keeping their fantasy world fresh and exciting too… Giving readers just enough to “get” the story, while still leaving us begging for more.
As usual, Fiona Staples’ art is a joy to look at– wildly imaginative, always capturing the creative essence of the worlds and creatures Vaughan has imagined. The art, combined with yet another smart script, leaves me with no complaints. The coloring blends really well, giving the pencils even more life.
If these two creators need to take a four-month hiatus to keep the quality high, then they should take it… Anytime they like. Creative writing, vibrant art and a ghost child with her guts hanging out… How could you not want to read this comic book? – Aaron Evans
X-O Manowar #25
Writer: Robert Venditti
Artists: Bryan Hitch, Diego Bernard, Allison Rodriguez
Colorists: Dave Baron, Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
22 pages, $4.99
I’ve been wanting to give writer Robert Venditti another chance since I reviewed his (not-so-good) Green Lantern comic a couple of months ago. I thought I saw potential in that garbage and, thankfully, I was proven correct: Venditti’s X-O Manowar is much better.
Given X-O Manowar #25 marks Valiant’s first comic to reach an anniversary issue (since the publisher relaunched 2 years ago), they’ve understandably made a very big deal out this milestone. Conditioned for years by the soulless cash grab antics practiced by Marvel & DC, I was prepared for huge, elaborate anniversary story so complicated I would be completely lost. Lucky for me, the creators bucked this noxious trend… As if they actually seem eager to bring in new readers!
Venditti and Company opt for a more user-friendly approach here– serving up an origin story and a prelude to the new Armored Hunters event. It’s the best of both worlds– a story for complete newbies like myself and another progressing the comic for loyal fans. The two tales are kept completely separate from each other (each has a different artist), but both achieve their purposes with grace. As an added bonus, the story meant for people who’ve been on board since day one is also new reader appropriate.
Too bad the comic is also one huge info dump. Exposition isn’t shoved down readers throats and the stories are told in intriguing ways– but this comic is all talking heads. Given this news, I’m happy to say Venditti handles it rather masterfully. Even the most dross scenes are (thankfully) succinct and wonderfully scripted– unveiling certain hidden gems that can make comic book reading so much fun.
The artists for the two main stories are great too. Their work is emotive and, for what little action there is, very dynamic. In fact, all the pencilers, inkers and colourists work extremely well together. (Even on the back-up features.) It’s a true pleasure to see the majority of the art match Venditti’s writing style.
But even with all this praise, I was not happy with the addition of shitty wikipadding– or the elevated cover price. A couple of 1-2 page back-up stories were humorous, but added nothing to the overall experience. (And let’s not go into how pointless wikipadding is…) If this comic wasn’t an unnecessarily overstuffed anniversary issue, I would’ve probably given X-O Manowar #25 an extra half to full star. But as usual, the fluff and extra cost isn’t worth the price of admission. – Nick Furi
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Duncan Fegredo
Letterer/Colorist: Peter Doherty
23 Pages, $2.99
With a comic boasting such accolades as “The writer of Kick Ass and the artist of Hellboy“, expectations are high. Fortunately, MPH #1 delivers!
The story merges two very heavily utilized themes– crime dramas and superhero epics– into one fresh, intriguing idea. Our main character, Roscoe, is a young guy with big dreams… But unfortunately, he’s dealing drugs to achieve those dreams. Roscoe’s optimism left me feeling a slight tinge of affection for him… And his rise and fall arc is conveyed well by writer/creator Mark Millar, leaving me conflicting emotions. Am I rooting for Roscoe, or are his inner demons about to get the best of him?
Millar and artist/co-creator Duncan Fegredo have built a solid artistic partnership with MPH. They establish personalities, tone and story flow with ease– keeping things exciting. The conversations between characters are natural and realistic… And personalities are not taken over the top for effect– which is always a treat for those of us who like a break from the dramatic. The art is not the best that I’ve seen, but it has a gritty quality about it that works well with the content.
From the first few pages, I was drawn into the story of a town left behind after a mysterious man with super speed wrecks it. Although super speed is nothing new to the world of comics, Millar smartly avoids the “science experiment/freak accident” angle– instead opting for a street drug that temporarily catapults a select few to superhuman status. That premise may not sound entirely seductive on paper either, but I gave it a chance and I enjoyed myself.
MPH should not be my “type” comic book, but I can’t argue with a well-executed piece of work. I want to know more, and thanks to a tantalizing ending– I’m looking forward to what happens next. – Danielle Young
All-New X-Men #27
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Cory Petit
20 pages, $3.99
Here’s a common theme I seem to hit on almost every time I review a Marvel comic book: The publisher is no longer insisting individual comics be “new reader” friendly. Even #1 issues (like the recently released Amazing Spider-Man #1) don’t adhere to the time-tested rule that every comic should be as accessible as possible for everyone.
That noted, I read my first X-Men comic some 25 years ago. It was the first “team” comic I followed and though there were a lot of characters to keep track of, I never felt confused with who everyone was and what was going on. Of course, it was also a very different time in the industry where (wait for it…) EVERY comic was written as if it was someone’s first issue. There was no internet around, nor were there very many trade paperbacks in print– so everything the reader needed to know to enjoy the current book they were reading needed to be loaded somewhere in the pages of every comic. Because of this, I was able to jump into different titles for the first time and get caught up to speed fairly quickly.
Man, those were the days.
Now, the vast majority of Marvel’s single issues are written as one small component of an eventual trade paperback collection (where all the issues of a particular story arc are reprinted). This has been going on for years now… But since I’ve read Marvel’s comics for so long, this shortsighted practice rarely ever stopped me from UNDERSTANDING what was going on in a title or knowing who all the key players were. Well, that’s all come to end for me with All-New X-Men #27– the most impenetrable comic I’ve read in a very long time.
Marvel usually does an alright job letting readers know what’s going on with their handy little “catch-up” pages in the front of each book– but this synopsis was so unhelpful, looking at a photo of writer Brian Michael Bendis giving me the middle finger would have been more entertaining/useful.
It’s bad enough that a companion title like Amazing X-Men is all about the original X-Men team from the past adventuring in the present… But now this current story has The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from the FUTURE coming to the present to fight current X-Men and X-Men from the past. Did you get all that? Add in a few new members on the X-Men team (since I last read the title) AND a bunch of unknown Brotherhood of Evil Mutants characters– and now I don’t care about 75% of the characters in this comic. For a book with a shit-ton of mutants, it truly does a piss poor job of letting the reader know who anyone is…
Then there are these constant flashbacks (or are they flashforwards?) which break up any rhythm the comic has going and kinda makes the whole convoluted mess of a main story worse. I’m not even going to go into who the Brotherhood characters are because it would make things one hundred times more confusing. Hell, I read the comic and I still don’t know if these guys are from some alternate future or the ACTUAL future. But when you have SO MANY characters from different times, does it matter if they are from alternate timelines or not? It’s better not to even think about any of that, since following the story here is difficult enough.
If I had to pick the absolute worse thing about Amazing X-Men #27, it would have to be that the actual story only takes place in about 5 minutes (or less) of “real time”. That’s it. With all of the flashbacks (which, honestly, are not needed), there is little to no movement in the main story. Even if the flashbacks were necessary, a better writer could have told them all in a few pages instead of using up the bulk of the comic. But some writers are just way too in love with the smell of their own farts. So much so, it’s becoming next to impossible to get anything resembling a good narrative anymore– especially from a Marvel comic. And let me tell you, this comic is one long marathon of wet flatulence.
25 years of experience with the X-Men, I still had next to no idea what the fuck was actually going on in this comic. The whole thing is a gigantic mess, but I bet it will totally read better in the trade… But not too much better, since the whole thing feels so goddamn soulless. – Jose Melendez
New Avengers #18
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
20 Pages, $3.99
This might be the most DC-esque Marvel comic ever. New Avengers #18 calls for many comparisons with the DC Universe– which is clearly intended by the author– and is really thought-provoking (to me).
First off, this issue is extremely reminiscent of Jeph Loeb’s work on Superman/Batman #20-25. During that arc, the World’s Finest duo battled a team of superheroes from another dimension, the Maximums, which were an obvious pastiche of the Avengers. Jonathan Hickman goes for the same trick here, but in the opposite direction: This time a team of Avengers has to face a version of DC’s Justice League from an alternate Earth.
That’s definitely enough to make me giddy.
Second, there’s also a tad of Grant Morrison at play in New Avengers. (Even though I don’t think Hickman’s writing will ever match Morrison’s for subtlety.) Regardless of all that, there’s still a lot of similarities between the two stories. Both share a prose that will be much more enjoyable when read in a collected edition than monthly floppies… Mainly because there’s so much going on! New Avengers #18 throws many threads around, leaving a few hanging in the air for a while– with cosmic shenanigans a-plenty. To some degree, Hickman possibly tries too hard to go “meta”, and some dialogue exchanges suffer for it. For instance, a few awkward lines and stupid concepts arise from time to time, but thankfully nothing bad enough to abate the overall quality of the book.
I’m intrigued by what’s going on, and this title’s definitely got my attention now. The confrontation between the Marvel team and the JL pastiche has a lot of good, suspenseful momentum. Hickman’s ability to put his heroes into difficult– yet not asinine– situations offers a good balance of exposition and character development. Some laid back, cool art by Valerio Schiti also helps make for a great reading experience. – Simon J. O’Connor
Superman Doomed #1
Writers: Scott Lobdell, Greg Pak, Charles Soule
Artist: Ken Lashley
Colorist: Sunny Gho
38 pages, $4.99
DC Comics’ newest crossover event begins in Superman Doomed #1… Or what I like to call DC’s next desperate installment of, “Let’s return to the 90s!”
I haven’t read a New 52 Superman comic in a long time– and I was instantly reminded why. Doomsday, the character famous (or is that infamous?) for killing Superman in the early 90s, has returned bigger and badder than ever. Yawn. So far this is your average “enemy monster comes back even more powerful” story. Speaking of story tropes you’ve seen a thousand times before, Superman again debates the morality of killing Doomsday. Been there, done that.
If you’re going to revisit old storylines in the superhero genre, you need to present them in a new, interesting way. That’s not done here.
Topping it all off, I have no idea why this comic needed three writers. I understand these guys are writing the main Superman series, but all three of them for one 38-page comic seems a bit much. Adding further insult, the story falls apart the second Wonder Woman shows up. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wonder Woman. I especially like what she stands for, but the way she’s presented here did not go over well with me.
I hate whenever writers portray Diana as a one-dimensional battle-hungry warrior. Yes, she’s a fierce woman but her character goes far beyond that. I’m also not a big fan of the current Wonder Woman/Superman coupling. The concept does nothing for me. You’d think that, after almost two years, some creator would come along and give their relationship some depth and meaning– but no one has.
It’s not like Superman Doomed #1 was completely unreadable. It’s just didn’t give me something I haven’t already seen. As far as Superman being infected? That already played out during Andy Diggle’s incredibly short run on Action Comics.
Even worse, the art isn’t much better than the script. Certain panels looked cool, but at times it felt like two artists were drawing the comic instead of one. Ken Lashley supposedly created all the art except the colors… So an accomplished inker might have added a cohesiveness to his pencils. The action scenes near the end drove me crazy too… Mostly because the panels really zoomed in on the action, so I could hardly tell what was going on. Lashley also did that thing I hate– where artists use shadows to cover up something they didn’t feel like drawing that day. Shadows can be used for good effect, but they just seemed lazy here. I’ve seen better Ken Lashley art, and this is not his A-game.
The last thing almost driving me completely insane? The cover price. The number of comics published at $4.99 during the last few months has been absurd. (Both DC and Marvel are guilty of this.) Along with this comic, I also purchased the latest issue of a book called The Walking Dead. (Maybe you’ve heard of it.) Want to know what I noticed? TWD had 44 pages priced at $2.99. I think I speak for everyone when I say, “What’s wrong with this picture?” (And don’t say the added colors in Superman Doomed #1 justify the price increase. They don’t.)
If an independent comic can afford to keep their cover prices low and still give us more content– why can’t DC? I know The Walking Dead is a special case, but still. Hey DC! Want to attract new readers to your latest Superman event? Make it affordable. This new event could’ve easily been marketed to bring in new readers (many who weren’t even born during the first Superman/Doomsday dust-up), but instead DC opts to shoot themselves in the foot by charging $5 for the first chapter of (what’s essentially) a retread.
Here’s what I got from this comic: Doomsday’s back… Oh, and I still don’t care for the Wonder Woman/Superman relationship. Those, my friends, are not revelations worth paying $5.00 for. – Aaron Evans
Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps #22
Writers: Duffy Boudreau, Christos Gage
Artist: Al Barrionuevo
Colorist: Matt Milla
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
22 pages, $3.99
So this is what a top-notch comic book reads/looks like!
Awesomeness noted, let me get my few nit-picks out of the way. There are a some dialogue conflicts between writers Duffy Boudreau and Christos Gage, but their work is mostly exceptional. (I had a big problem with a minor 4-panel sequence which took me a couple of read-throughs to decipher… Big deal.) My only (very tiny) problem with the art: A few panels are over-shaded/over-coloured by either artist Al Barrionuevo or colourist Matt Milla.
That’s it! Now onto the good stuff!
A giant surprise– sending readers on an epic escape adventure– invades the plot on Page Four! This intense thread hooked me for the remainder of the story… And even as the pace of the narrative ebbed and flowed, it’s astonishing how well it all worked together. The thought and care put into the entire comic boggles my mind. Why can’t other creators put in this much effort? The detail involved– SHOWING the story in the background while carrying on with business as usual– is fantastic.
I knew nothing coming about Bloodshot coming into this story– and it didn’t matter. There’s a recap page– which is an added bonus– but the story’s so well written, it’s not a necessity. It’s really unbelievable how quickly I understood these characters– easily picking out the hard-ass, the hotheaded berserker, and the calm, collected leader… All on the combined strength of the art and words. Generally, I find discrepancies (big or small) in quality between one of the main parts (art and story) of a comic book. Not here. Not only can the reader instantly pick up on the characters’ different traits, but their underlying motivations as well. Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps #22 is truly an inspiring, incredible read for a comic book fan.
Holy crap! The art and colouring are sweet! Barrionuevo’s action and stationary panels jive perfectly. I see energy during the ass-kicking scenes… And a distraught anger rises from the pages whenever the H.A.R.D. Corps find themselves dealing with (what they think are) Bloodshot’s actions. Even though Matt Milla’s colours are a bit dark at times, he deserves much praise for fleshing the book out– making it a true work of art. Muted colours contrast shiny tech– sometimes giving the art a coloured pencil look– and that isn’t something I often see in superhero comics. (What a refreshing change of pace.) These two artists make quite a team– solidifying their professional status.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I rarely find a perfect comic… And while Bloodshoot and H.A.R.D. Crops #22 isn’t quite perfect, it’s damn close– and it’s bloody (pun intended) fun. – Nick Furi
Justice League United #1
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Mike McKone
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
20 pages, $3.99
In what may be one of my most conflicted comic book reviews yet, I chose to delve into the world of DC Comics for the first time. As most avid nerds are, I’m very familiar with their main roster of characters and some of their more popular storylines… But I took this opportunity as a chance to branch out into new territory. First, because I like shiny new experiences– and second, because the comic takes place in Canada… And that makes me feel like warm maple syrup inside.
Aside from announcing their Ontario setting, battling in a snowy white backdrop and one offside hockey quip, there isn’t much of a Canadian vibe to be found here. Even the variant cover exclaiming JUSTICE LEAGUE CANADA gives us only a simple colour change from blue to red. I don’t know if I expected to see Animal Man channel a beaver or the group get stuck in a sudden hailstorm, but alas, I was hopelessly duped in the locale department.
Speaking of Animal Man: As a team, he and his costars– Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter and Stargirl– form one of the lamest superhero teams I have ever witnessed. Most of their powers are downright strange and seem very useless under the circumstances given in the story. (I must reiterate I don’t know much about these characters at all, so this is solely based on first impressions.) Given Jeff Lemire’s script, they all appear to be grown adults with the personalities of sarcastic teenagers… Heroes who have to go to work with their weird big brother from space. Once some of the intense action dies down, they take a breather to engage in an awkward hug and powwow session– mostly to discuss whether they can call themselves the Justice League yet.
The worst part– BY FAR– was the incessant talking through all the action scenes. Their constant back-and-forth was seasoned with cheesy quips like, “Lightning? Good thing I can channel an electric eel!” and featured some of the most repetitive, infuriating name dropping I have ever seen. I can understand the need to point out who each character is in a first issue, but you don’t have to see said characters naming one another on every single page! Yep, Stargirl… That’s Stargirl. Her name is Stargirl… And shes the only girl. Got it.
There’s a secondary story occurring throughout the main narrative that does ground this issue in a much darker and complex (and potentially confusing) place. Thankfully (for the time being), it seems quite disconnected. While it somewhat redeems the downfalls I outline above, I still don’t see a lot of future potential. I was left a bit bored by it.
I did, however, really enjoy the work from artist Mike McKone. Every page is bright, vibrant, eye-popping fun– with clean lines and a very cool use of what the photography world calls depth of field. McKone’s layering gives everything a very three-dimensional feel, coupled with great detailing and use of space. His work all but saved this comic from being a huge disappointment for me… Which resulted in the very conflicted feelings I mentioned in the first sentence.
– Danielle Young
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: John Rauch
Letterer: Rus Wooton
20 pages, $2.99
Minor Spoilers Ahead!
Every time I come back to review an issue of Invincible, I find it difficult to come up with new adjectives to describe it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing… Far from it. To me, my dwindling vocabulary choices just show how consistent the comic’s content has been for years. Like any book, it’s had its ups and downs– and has not been without some controversy. Invincible really is something you either like or you don’t. I guess you could also be indifferent toward it, but someone feeling this way would lead me to question their level of reading comprehension and their commitment to comics as an artistic medium.
I sincerely don’t mean that last sentence as a slam in any way… But I can’t understand how anyone who loves comics can come away from an issue of Invincible without feeling SOMETHING. Take this #111: There’s some increasingly intense and frightening stuff going on here. The story contains no less than two very shocking scenes— which longtime readers of Invincible will find somewhat hurtful and quite disturbing.
If there’s one adjective I’ve used to describe this comic (more than any other), it’s “Emotional”. The more readers emotionally invest themselves in Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s characters, the more return they receive. And when you think about it, it’s unbelievably hard to get that emotional over a mainstream comic. Marvel and DC’s books used to be full of emotion back in the day… With the death of Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man springing quickly to mind… But how long ago was that?
Imagine being able to read a story with that much visceral impact in every issue of a comic you purchase? This is something Invincible excels at. Yes, there are lulls in various story arcs to help readers catch their collective breaths– and even enjoy some more lighthearted fun… But when it comes time to get a bit more serious, well, then it is on.
As I alluded to earlier, newer readers picking up Invincible #111 may very well not understand just how important Issue #111 is. This comic is a culmination of years of stories… And thankfully, there’s ample expository dialog at the beginning to help catch people up a bit. The turn of Robot from one of Invincible’s greatest allies to, now, one of his most dangerous villains has grown organically. You know exactly where Robot has been and where he’s now coming from. He believes what he’s doing (taking over and running civilization) is for the betterment of everybody– and in some ways, he may be correct. (Making it all quite tragic.)
The manner in which he wants to take over is the problem. One action leads to the death of a character who’s been around since the beginning… And the other is an outright horrific event that greatly affects Invincible’s (ex)girlfriend, Atom Eve.
For the record, what happens to Atom Eve is both disturbing and extremely shocking. I’m hoping the outcome of her encounter with Robot is also not permanent… But see, that’s the thing with this comic. The reader rarely ever knows what’s going to happen– which is why when we see awful things befalling characters we love, it tears us up. I’m sure this is exactly what the creators are going for as well.
Having said all this– between the death of a long-standing character, what happens to Eve in this comic and what happened to Invincible LAST issue… It’s almost becoming a bit much. I would even say it’s borderline excessive… And my faith in the title turning this all around is the only thing that’s keeping me from railing against it at the moment.
The Invincible creators give their all with each issue– and this comic is no exception. As a reader, I have come to expect nothing less. – Jose Melendez