Welcome to Wednesday Comics on Tor.com! Starting this week I (and most likely some other guests down the line) will be posting up short reviews of a select handful of this week’s comic releases. You'll see this every week on Wednesday unless, like this week, new comic day falls on a Thurdsay due to a holiday.
This week’s batch includes:
- Hit-Monkey #1
- Demo #6
- X-Men #1
- Batman: Odyssey #1
- Shadowland #1
- Avengers: Children’s Crusade #1
- Scarlet #1
Marvel has a strong showing this week, and a large number of titles and mini-series kick off. The results?
Hit-Monkey #1 (of 3)
Written by Daniel Way
Art by Dalibor Talajic
I’d like to think this book was a result of one of the most effective pitches of all time. “So there’s a monkey, but he’s also a hitman...” Stop right there. SOLD. The idea is simple and fun and perfectly suited for the comic book medium.
So why does this book make the concept so angst-ridden and serious? The story revolves around an attempted coup of the current Japanese government by its military head, with the monkey caught in the middle as the primary assassin of choice. The hit-monkey has ideas of his own, though, and plans to unravel the entire plot through some well-aimed killings.
Except, the monkey doesn’t seem to enjoy his task, and it’s this narrative choice that unravels the concept of the book itself. What you expect to be light, gratuitous, and funny instead becomes a by-the-numbers action tale. You could replace the hit-monkey with anything and the story would remain the same. Dalibor Talajic’s art gets the short end of the stick here, as his dark and realistic tone, though gorgeous, just reinforces the serious nature of the story.
Hit-Monkey is a promising concept with great talent that nevertheless goes awry.
Demo #6 (of 6)
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan
(DC Comics / Vertigo)
I wish this wasn’t a mini-series. Both volumes of Demo, for those unaware, are collected single issues—each issue a self-contained story—that take a realistic view of people dealing with odd supernormal abilities. In the first issue of this six-issue volume, we follow a precog who ditches her life in order to actively fulfill a vision that she dreams of every night. In another, we watch a kid who can breathe underwater slowly grow emotionally detached from life in the open air. In all the issues, the power (or merely the illusion of the power in the character’s mind) is the catalyst towards a sort of emotional fulfillment.
Demo #6 concludes the second volume with a tale of a couple who hate each other but who are neurologically intertwined to the point where getting too close to each other actually physically hurts them. They’d leave each other in a heartbeat, if getting too far away from the other didn’t kill them both. The story comes to its own conclusion regarding this poisonous relationship, and while it may not be a resolution that the reader or the characters themselves want, it is nonetheless honest to life.
It’s this simplicity that lies at the heart of all of the stories contained in Demo, and Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan craft some very beautiful vignettes from these simple concepts. Cloonan herself stamps a singular artistic identity on the series with her detailed but clean lines, and melds her style so successfully to the personality of the characters in each issue that you don’t immediately notice until you’re through reading. I hope there’s a third series.
Written by Victor Gischler
Art by Paco Medina
X-Men #1 appears to be the launch of a new ongoing book in the large, large family of X-Men titles and kicks off a storyline that will feature in many of that family’s second-tier books. The lord of vampires has resurfaced and he is intent on going to war against mutantkind for reasons that, unfortunately, aren’t explained in this issue.
X-Men (not to be confused with X-Men: Legacy, which used to be just X-Men) is an obvious attempt to marry one of its most successful franchises with the current, seemingly endless, vampire craze—but that’s not to say that there’s not a good story to be had from the meeting of the two concepts. Judging from this issue, however, I’m not certain there’s a good story laying in wait for us here.
“Curse of the Mutants” looks determined to be a straight-ahead action piece, and this is where the concept starts to fall apart. When your main characters can blast holes through mountains, delete entire minds, heal themselves from any wound or sickness, and futz up the Earth’s entire magnetic field, it’s hard to imagine vampires being any kind of threat. A more intimate level of drama is required in this case, but nobody’s loved ones are being threatened here and the larger theme that both groups represent—namely, that both are an endangered species feared and grossly misunderstood by the world at large—goes ignored.
There is a clever bit in the beginning, and it makes a certain sort of sense to launch the title with a relatively light story, considering that the X-titles have just come out of a huge crossover, but the issue altogether isn’t as potent as one would hope.
Batman: Odyssey #1 (of 12)
Written by Neal Adams
Art by Neal Adams
Where once Neal Adams was hailed for taking Batman away from the high camp and detective pulp that defined the character in the late 1960s, now he returns to steer the character back into that bygone decade. Batman: Odyssey chronicles the early days of the pointy-cowled crimefighter, before his cave became filled with giant pennies, before his head became filled with alternate personalities, and before he had perfected his approach to crime. This Batman carries a gun and is still maturing as a hero, thinking his own outfit and weapons ridiculous even as he chides Robin for being too gleeful while they drive a flying car.
His adventures in this title are relatively light and straightforward, with little, if any, interpersonal drama. It’s an approach that Adams pulls off with a tremendously deft hand. He evokes the Batman era of the 1960s without parody, but is not blind to its dramatic shortcomings. The tale is told with the utmost of respect, sans irony, even as the characters like “The Maniaco” pop in and out of frame.
Adams’ art is energetic and detailed, if lumpy in places, but the book is all around a lot of fun. (Which is something I never thought I’d be saying about a Batman story.) It’s a great peek into Batman’s early days. I wanted to hate this, but ended up really enjoying it.
Shadowland #1 (of 5)
Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Billy Tan
A top-tier hero turning bad is usually a lot of fun to read, and Shadowland is no exception. This mini-series, focusing on the street-level characters of the Marvel Universe, starts off very actively and is very friendly to a reader unfamiliar with the current state of Daredevil or the Marvel Universe in particular. It also nails Daredevil’s currently unapologetic state of mind with a frighteningly quick pace, leaving you troubled about his mental state even as he commits an act that you fully support. I’m very interested in seeing how this Daredevil interacts with familiar figures like the Punisher, Kingpin and more. Should be a dark, dark ride.
Avengers: Children’s Crusade #1 (of 9)
Written by Allan Heinberg
Art by Jim Cheung
Allan Heinberg has been historically late with his follow-up to the Young Avengers mini-series he so brilliantly launched in 2005. The characters have been in out of the hands of several authors since then, but Avengers: The Children’s Crusade marks Heinberg’s and artist partner Jim Cheung’s triumphant return.
And triumphant it is. Heinberg and Cheung have their familiar rhythm established within the very first panel, and I was laughing by panel three. The issue as a whole doesn’t disappoint and it is a joy to watch the Marvel Universe once again re-interpreted through the eyes of the next generation of super heroes.
By the end of the issue, the Young Avengers have made some decisions that will put them head to head against a figure who is famously unyielding, while en route to another famous Marvel character who can and has proven powerfully unpredictable. I can’t wait to see how they deal with this one.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev
(Marvel Comics / Icon)
Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev are the creative minds behind one of the most notable runs on Marvel's Daredevil title. [Edit: This article originally confused Alex Maleev with Michael Gaydos, who partnered with Bendis on Alias. The original text quoted Alias as “one of the greatest series that Marvel has ever produced.”] So I had to pick up the first issue of Scarlet, which sees their debut on Marvel’s uncensored Icon imprint. Right off the bat, after killing a crooked cop who assaults her, Scarlet greets us with the following:
And if this world has to burn to the ground before all the fuckers learn to stop being fuckers...then that’s what it’s going to do.
Well, I’m intrigued. (Don’t worry, on the next page she apologizes for swearing and hopes she’s not crazy.) The issue continues on in this fashion, with Scarlet the character directly addressing the reader and taking us through the larger moments of her life, including a brutal moment of crystallization that leads to the last page reveal. Scarlet’s journey is going to be ugly, even if you agree with her.
Alex Maleev’s artwork is richly detailed, gritty without being dark, and just a little bit splotchy. It's a good kind of splotchy, though; just enough for you to see the realistic world around Scarlet without being showy or too clear. He’s strong on faces and reaction shots, too, which is good because Bendis uses those quite a lot. [Edit: The preceding was changed from its original version. It now reflects the correct artist’s history.] Bendis himself is a prolific guy and doesn’t always maintain a consistent writing quality, but he’s usually at his best when he’s steering his own creations and this proves to be no exception.
I’m not sure if I’ll end up liking this series, but I simply have to see where it goes.
Got an opinion on the above? Comment below! Did you read something this week that we didn’t cover? Comment below!
Chris Greenland writes for Tor.com but is otherwise speechless.