Welcome to Wednesday Comics Pull-List, here on Tor.com! Every week we post reviews of a select handful of this week’s comic releases. From those reviews, we let you know what we would pull for keeps.
This week’s batch includes:
- Batman: Hidden Treasures
- Buffy: The Vampire Slayer #37
- CBLDF: Liberty Annual 2010
- Chaos War #1
- Crosshair #1
- Kane & Lynch #3
- Klaws of the Panther #1
- Superman: The Last Family of Krypton #3 (of 3)
- Metalocalypse/Dethklok #1
- Trouble Point #1
- Ultimate Comics Thor #1 (of 4)
- Uncanny X-Force #1
There’s a lot of Marvel Comics releases in there, but alternate reality Supermen and Batman are who win the day.
Batman: Hidden Treasures
Written by Ron Marz & Len Wein
Artwork by Bernie Wrightson & Kevin Nowlan
Pull: Yes! How can you not?!
Annie says: Welcome to the most dramatic comic book introduction ever: “Hardcore comics fans speak in hushed tones of a small handful of legendary stories that have never been seen, but that somehow, somewhere, exist. Stories lost, or hidden, or possibly even destroyed…” I love it.
This story is told third person by a totally unidentifiable voice and renders as folklore originally. Batman arrives in the Gotham City sewer system to investigate a series of murders that have been occuring. You ever wonder why Gotham even has a police department? Sometimes I do, like when Batman has to show up in the literal underbelly of Gotham in order to help solve the mystery of the disappearing homeless people. Of course, in true fashion, there’s a much deeper reason to why these murders are taking place.
I loved almost everything about this comic. I loved the fact that Batman used no gadgets to solve this crime; he relied solely on his wits, which is something I feel gets lost in the newer comics. I loved the story and the fact that it was told in a campfire setting and that up until the very end you had no idea who the narrator was directing this tale to. I loved, absolutely adored, the artwork. Bernie Wrightson is a master and getting to see this splash work was definitely a treat. Wrightson is probably one of the reasons I like Tim Sale as much as I do. The pointier ears and the way he drapes Batman’s cape are two huge points for me. But, to each their own.
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer #37
Written by Joss Whedon & Scott Allie
Art by Georges Jeanty
Pull: Falling in the middle of a story arc fairly late in the “season,” issue 37’s not going to really pull in any new readers. But if you’re already reading “Season 8,” you’re in for a decent issue!
Matt says: Every season of Buffy had its highs and lows, its brilliant moments and its disappointing ones, its successes and its failures—and “Season 8” has been no different. We have balanced the initial thrill of seeing Buffy and crew back in action—and the slow but steady return of departed fan-favorites like Oz, Riley, Angel, and finally even Spike—against a slew of more…controversial decisions: Warren is apparently back and dating Amy, but was maybe “technically” dead for a minute or something so that The First could still impersonate him…or something; Angel, meanwhile, has been the Little Bad all season long, but he’s only doing it for Buffy’s own good, even if it means killing a lot of people in order to save the world…or something; the world knows about vampires and likes them, and Harmony has a reality television show, and everybody hates slayers…or something; etc. After a couple of thoroughly confusing—maybe even disappointing—plot twists over the last arc or two, Joss has taken writing chores back for “Last Gleaming” (aided on this issue by editor-turned-writer Scott Allie) to hopefully answer a few questions and set up a satisfying end for the season. And sure enough, issue #37 (the second part of the “Last Gleaming” arc) opens with Spike offering us “a bit of exposition.”
The much-needed exposition does in fact restore some semblance of lucidity to the plotline, even if only in the moment: we at least know where our heroes are headed, and what their mission is. There are still some major, looming questions to be answered—but for the moment, these questions can take the back seat, and we can simply trust that, sooner or later, we will get the answers we’re looking for. If there’s been anything truly frustrating about “Season 8,” after all, it’s that an episode’s worth of story tends to spread out over three issues or so—meaning that instead of waiting an hour (with commercials) for answers, we’re often left waiting for months. But we’ve learned some patience this season, and so for the moment we must simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Issue #37 offers some nice moments along the way. The character writing is spot-on, and—especially in the scenes featuring Buffy and Spike—it’s almost hard not to hear the voices in your head as you read the lines. Jeanty seems to be better at capturing the likeness of some characters better than others—but his renderings of Spike and Faith both really stand out in this issue among his best work. And between the exposition and the obligatory (if perfunctory) action sequences, we manage to get some nice bits of character development as well: Buffy’s not-entirely-resolved feelings about Spike; a nice little bit between Xander and Dawn; and a decent scene between Giles and Faith. Every season of Buffy had its ups and downs, but what really separates a “season 3” from a “season 4” (read that as you will…) is the way all of the episodes hang together as a whole. And so, as we speed toward the conclusion of “Season 8,” it may still yet be too soon to tell whether it’s going to be a good season or a bad one overall. In the meantime, “Last Gleaming” is at least shaping up to be a good “episode.”
CBLDF: Liberty Annual 2010
Writing and Art by Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, Darick Robertson, Richard P. Clark, Jimmy Betancourt, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Rob Steen, Ben McCool, Billy Tucci
Pull: Absolutely—it’s a great issue, and it helps fund a great cause. But don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back there; Roshell, Bautista, and Szymanowicz have it right in their “Charley Loves Robots” short: “You may safely resume thoughts of acquisition and consumption.”
Matt says: The annual fundraising issue for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is out today, and—as usual—it’s a fun mix, mostly from the usual suspects. Standout segments include a short story from Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, a madcap “Milk and Cheese” short from Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, and a well done little Conan story by Darick Robertson, Richard P. Clark, and Jimmy Betancourt. Frank Miller chimes in with the usual “I’ll draw nekkid girls if I want to” pinup/cartoon, Garth Ennis of course comes through with a Boys short (with art by Rob Steen); and Ben McCool and Billy Tucci contribute a truly kick-ass pinup of Alexander Nevsky!
As usual, the CBLDF issue seems to bring out the allegorical stories in force. Even the most obvious metaphors and symbols here still manage to be far more subtle and complex than your average monthly capes-and-tights book, and the Liberty Annual issue is always a chance for me to pause and reflect on how very little real thinking goes into so much comic book writing. Ennis’s dialogue between Butcher and Huey captures it nicely: the fight against comic book censorship is often a struggle to protect books with no redeeming value, created by people who have very little interest in the product they’re creating to begin with. “But who am I to deny its creators their right to self-expression? I mean fuck censorship, am I right?” Butcher’s right when he says Huey’s second “moral o’ the story” is better than his first: “Aw, I can’t get it outta my fuckin’ head…!”
Also as usual, the CBLDF plays to its audience here, carefully sidestepping the more controversial (and, for that very reason, more important) issues at the forefront of the comic legal battles. We’re big on metaphors and allegories here, and there’s all of the expected “censorship is bad” rhetoric—even when it comes, as in Skottie Young’s pinup, in ironic form: “please keep speech free of my dog emma with eat your f**king face off”—but absent are any of the controversial topics that make legal defense of free expression in comics so important to begin with. (What about the “child pornography” tag that has politicians on both sides of the Pacific attempting to protect fictional “minors”? What about the depictions of religious figures that have media distributors on both sides of the Atlantic hastily canceling cartoons?) My worry is that the CBLDF annual might verge on being yet another case of twenty-first-century, postmodern “activist capitalism”: (Why really worry about labor organizing in the third world, when you can just buy Starbucks “free trade” coffee? Why really worry about environmental damage when you can just buy recycled napkins? Why really worry about censorship, when you can just buy a comic book?) In other words, I’d like to see future issues from the CBLDF not just help financially support this excellent institution—but also better address the reasons why groups like the CBLDF are needed in the first place!
Chaos War #1
Written by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente
Art by Khoi Pham
Pull: If you’re in the mood for punchy, punchy fun, yes. Also if you’re not.
Chris says: “The age of hitting things is over!” proclaims one of the main characters (Amadeus Cho) in the back-up story of Chaos War #1. I’m not familiar with Hercules, but this title promised cosmic action and hit a soft spot in me created years ago by Marvel’s Infinity Gauntlet/War/Crusade crossovers. This title doesn’t deliver that kind of character-heavy portent, but that’s absolutely okay, because it’s far more fun.
Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente deliver a cosmic tale that is simplistic but fun. And funny without degrading the threat in the story, which is not something I was expecting. Hercules is a god, but up against the likes of Zeus and Thor, he’s an underdog. (Undergod?) Thus, when he becomes suddenly all-powerful and recognizes a threat that the rest of the cosmos seems blind to, no one listens to him. How do you convince a world to fight when their highest opinion of you is that you always know when beer is on sale at Costco?
That struggle alone goes a long way towards giving this by-the-numbers cosmic tale a fresh and engaging twist. Khoi Pham’s detailed art seals the deal. These pencils ooze power and sell the story in a way that more cartoonish artists like Ed McGuinness couldn’t. As Hercules says on the last page of the book, “Welcome to the new age of hitting things!” Thanks, Hercules! Happy to be here.
Written by Jeff Katz and Marc Silvestri
Art by Allan Jefferson and Jordi Terragona
Pull: No—just wait for the movie. It’ll be better written, more fun to watch, and you won’t have to wait to see if a second issue comes out.
Matt says: The latest book to drop in Top Cow’s “Pilot Season,” Crosshair is also the latest book in what is by now an all-too-familiar trend: the comic book movie pitch. This one, of course, already had its movie deal before issue 1 even hit stands—which means, I suspect, that Top Cow doesn’t really care whether or not Crosshair gets picked up as an ongoing series after “Pilot Season” is over. And while I’ll probably go and see the movie when it comes out, I must admit that I don’t really care whether or not we see a second issue, either.
The premise is a good one, let’s give Silvestri, Katz, and company that much. The basic premise—a “Manchurian Candidate” style “programmed” assassin knows that he’s been programmed, and thus has to set out to stop himself—is already gripping, and the issue ends with a little twist that makes the story even more interesting. Aristotle once said, “If the sketch is good, anyone, it seems, can advance and articulate it”; but as any good writer can tell you, a good premise is only half the battle, and a good script doesn’t simply write itself. This issue is written with the mediocre tone of a comics writer phoning it in. Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, it would have been enough: clichéd dialogue and caption boxes packed with exposition used to be enough. But that was before comics started paying the same attention to writing as it has been paying to art. And of course, this leads us to a funny little irony: when comics started being written better, they started to attract more attention from Hollywood. But now that Hollywood’s scooping up comics properties faster than they can be created, we’ve started seeing more and more comic scripts shoddily phoned in, just so that the writer has a property to pitch to Hollywood. I, for one, look forward to the day the “bubble” bursts—at least then we can get back to the business of writing comics again.
Allan Jefferson and Jordi Terragona handle the art chores here, and manage to be professional without being impressive. The storytelling is solid, and the characters are readily recognizable across the pages. I was personally glad to see the various Image move away from the rigidly-enforced “house style” approach, but for a comic that’s supposed to read like a Hollywood action movie, I can’t help but think a little more of the Top Cow “slickness” of style wouldn’t have hurt here.
Kane & Lynch #3
Written by Ian Edginton
Artwork by Christopher Mitten
Pull: Sigh… no. It seems I just threw another $4 at a comic I can’t even endorse.
Annie says: I know last time, I told you not to bother with Kane & Lynch #2. The thing is, I’m invested now, so regardless of how mediocre #2 was, I just don’t feel like I can give up on it.
Fortunately, this issue seemed to return to the same vein as the first. Edginton has brought the character level down to a manageable group as we find Kane & Lynch in the home of someone who has made them an offer that neither can refuse: the opportunity to run The 7. You know, that group that placed a $10 million dollar bounty on Kane & Lynch’s life. Can we say plot twist?
The action is back up in this comic, more gunfire, more car chases, but, overall there’s something missing. I might be digging myself a hole here, especially if they pull it together for #4, but this comic seems to have good intentions and just sort of falls flat. The artwork didn’t seem as good in this issue, which might have been because I was really paying attention to it but at the same time it looked sort of sloppy. At least sloppier than it had in previous issues. The story, I just don’t get it. It may be a matter of rereading #2 but, with a comic that’s only about 30 pages long, there’s no real reason for fluidity issues.
Klaws of the Panther #1
Written by Jonathan Maberry
Art by Gianluca Gugliotta
Pull: Yes. This is a good jumping-on point for anyone interested in this character, too.
Chris says: I actually don’t have much to say about this issue, which is weird in itself. It’s not because it’s bad. It’s not. It’s a solidly told action tale, energetically drawn, that serves as a really great jumping-on point for anyone who has been looking to follow the expanded Black Panther titles. It’s a book that feels at ease with itself, as well. Black Panther has always been a character with enormous pride in his (or her, in this case) country, culture, and its achievements. Some writers lay that on too thickly, turning it into an arrogant mockery of itself and making the title uncomfortable to read, but Jonathan Maberry avoids that without sacrificing the character trait itself.
I suppose it’s that, so far, there’s nothing larger occurring in the title in regards to the plot or to the main character, so it’s hard for me to get really excited. It’s a good book, but I’m not sure where it’s going.
Meta 4 #3 (of 5)
Writing and Art by Ted McKeever
Chris says: Eisner Award-winning illustrator and storyteller Ted McKeever makes it immediately clear in Meta 4 why he would be so dubbed. The man is insanely expressive with his inks and Meta 4 ranges from desolate, to goofy, to solemn, and everything in between without making it difficult to keep up.
That said, I nevertheless didn’t connect with Meta 4 on a personal level, so I’m not sure whether to suggest picking it up. It’s an interesting and well done title—there are several panels I wish I could just pull out and showcase—and the memory that the main character struggles with in this issue is effective in pinning down a funny form of blameless guilt that we don’t often think about. I think perhaps it’s that we don’t spend enough time with that story which throws me.
When it comes right down to it, though, Meta 4 is a book that should be seen, and that ultimately swings me towards recommending it.
Written by Brendon Small, Jon Schnepp & Jeremy Barlow
Artwork by Lucas Marangon & Eduardo Francisco
Pull: Yes, it’s smart and hilarious. Case in point: “It’s called social networking and everyone’s doing it. It’s why I’M now the most popular member of the band on the internet. Jealous much?”
Annie says: It’s time to get nostalgic, kiddos! The friends I used to hang out with in high school were in a “hardcore” band and we’d watch this show because we could totally “relate” to their hardcore lifestyle. Fast forward a few years and infinite levels of maturity (maybe) and I found that I wasn’t really relating to the band as much as I was finally getting the satire. For those of you who don’t watch this show Metalocaplypse is about death metal band called Dethklok, the most popular band in the world, and their exploits and adventures.
Due to their popularity, any time Dethklok endorses a product or service, all competitors are quickly run out of business and supplies don’t usually last. In this instance, Dethklok has manufactured a line of frozen meals called Hypothermifoods which has not only gained the attention of their fans (some have gone on hunger strikes until the product is released) but the U.S. Government who believes that if supplies of Hypothermifoods mass panic and cannibalisation will overtake citizens. I know it doesn’t sound funny, but it really, really is. The entire thing is basically a dig at the glorification of celebrity. It’s packed with references to the stupid technological things we’ve fallen for (the panels on Chitter are absolutely hilarious) as well as the hype some of us have fed into when a popular artist does something other than create art. It’s lighthearted, definitely funny and well done. I would imagine there won’t be much crossing over into the television show episode because there are a million directions the authors could take these characters in.
Superman: The Last Family of Krypton #3 (of 3)
Written by Cary Bates
Art by Renato Arlem
Pull: Yes. Especially if you were a fan of Mark Millar’s Elseworlds Superman title Superman: Red Son
Chris says: The Last Family of Krypton posits what the DC Universe would be like if Superman’s entire family had survived the explosion of Krypton and not just Superman. The results are…interesting. Earth becomes a utopian mess watched over by Superman’s parents, with Superman himself being gutted of his agency and a human populace that knows it can never advance farther than where the Superfamily can take them.
DC released a similar take on Superman years ago in Mark Millar’s Red Son, where Superman landed in Russia instead of the Midwest. The interpretation of the DCU that this current mini-series offers is just as fascinating, and a good deal more cerebral. Writer Cary Bates lets the heavier themes breathe more in this series, as opposed to lingering on flashier elements. This approach works well and ensures that when those flashy elements do come about, they hit hard. (Artist Renato Arlem draws a breathtaking single-page with Superman’s mom in front of her massive congregation that really sends this point home.)
This approach falters when it comes time to wrap up the story and the conclusion ends up feeling rushed. The three Superkids get short shrift (even Superman) in their conclusions, and they ended up being the characters I was most interested in following.
All in all, though, this was a great story. Now I have to run back to the store and pick up the first two issues.
Trouble Point #1
Written by Julian Lawler
Artwork by Eddy Barrows
(Broken Tree Comics)
Pull: I’d say yes for the artwork but, even that doesn’t carry this comic. Pass.
Annie says: Holy heavy plot, guys. This comic takes place in Cuidad Juarez which, along with El Paso, Texas, makes up one of the largest metropolitan border areas in the world. Whereas El Paso is lauded as one of the safest urban centers in America, Cuidad Juarez is vilified as one of the world’s most dangerous cities—even more perilous than occupied Baghdad. In 2008, over 1600 people were murdered in narco killings and gang executions. Even more disturbing, over the last ten years, over four hundred women have been found murdered in the vacant lots and deserts of Cuidad Juarez. So… with that said, let’s tear into this issue, huh?
This comic is aesthetically gorgeous. It boasts full page black and white illustrations that really impressed me making up for the lackluster plot. The only bits of this story that I managed to figure out was that there are a large group of superheroes/government officials who are trying to piece together the serial murders going on. Then there’s a convenience store robbery and that’s where writer Julian Lawler lost me. I went so far as to look through some other reviews and it would seem that no one knows who the character of “Cuba” is or why he’s mentioned. Can anyone clarify?
Ultimate Comics Thor #1 (of 4)
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Carlos Pacheco
Pull: Yes. Beautiful and entertaining, the first issue is a great chance to get to know the Norse God of Thunder, even if you’ve never been a fan in the past.
Matt says: At long last, Marvel is exploring the origin story for their Ultimate incarnation of Thor, and the first issue offers Nazis, frost giants, and—at last—the Ultimate version of Donald Blake to boot! For me, the best part about a Marvel movie coming out is that the publisher tends to move some of its heavier-hitting talent onto the corresponding books in the months leading up to the movie’s release. No exception to this rule, Jonathan “Nightly News” Hickman’s capable scripting is being gorgeously rendered here by one of my favorites, Carlos Pacheco. Dexter Vines does a beautiful job inking Pacheco, and Edgar Delgado nicely pulls up the rear with coloring duties.
Best of all, so far the series requires no knowledge of the “Ultimate” universe and only the most rudimentary understanding of the Thor character. This is what the Ultimate line was originally intended to do, of course—though after 10 years and a number of crossover events, a certain amount of backstory has understandably clogged up most of the Ultimate books. Fresh readers will have no problem picking up Thor, however—which, one would imagine, is exactly Marvel’s intention.
Uncanny X-Force #1
Written by Rick Remender
Art by Jerome Opeña
Pull: If you like the X-characters, and/or “grim and grit,” this one’s for you. Otherwise, maybe stay tuned to see if it’s worth finding a trade paperback in a couple of months…
Matt says: Here’s what I hope: that the editorial staff on Marvel’s X-Books have decided to turn Wolverine into the new Magneto. After all, Magneto is lately taking another turn at being a “good guy” (at least I think so—it’s hard to keep up, and after all things might change by the time you read this…), and so there’s an opening. And Wolverine seems nicely set up to fill those shoes: for the sake of protecting mutantkind, he’s been running around with his “black ops” squads, doing all kinds of awful things lately. It’s stuff Professor X—or even Claremont’s Cyclops—never would have let him get away with, and with the new incarnation of X-Force, it’s stuff even the modern Cyclops wouldn’t allow. Of course, if Marvel’s not turning Wolverine into the new Magneto, then he’s still just the Batman of the X-universe, and this whole thing is just another played-out exercise in “grim and gritty”…
Fortunately, even if it turns out to be the latter, the first issue of Uncanny X-Force is an enjoyable exercise in grim and grit. Rick Remender first caught my attention with his writing on Fear Agent, and the first issue of X-Force is almost as good. Meanwhile, Jerome Opeña’s art is attractive—he seems to be one of the few pencils-only artists who doesn’t make me wish there had been an inker—and his storytelling is mostly really solid (all but one unfortunate incident of style-over-substance during Deadpool’s action sequence near the end…). Best of all, an on-and-off-again X-book reader over the past twenty years, I was able to pick Uncanny X-Force up without feeling locked out by too much convoluted back-story. And of course, for those who still want a little more context, Marvel has helpfully included a little “previously in the X-world” summary at the end of the issue.
Overall, the new direction of Wolverine and his team—the covert black ops team, doing bad things in order to allow the “good guys” to stay “clean”—is one I’m a little tired of already. Ever since the mid-80s, we’ve known all too well that comic-hero vigilantism is but thinly-veiled, adolescence-fueled fascism; in the last twenty five years, I’ve grown a little weary of books content to re-tread this same ground without giving us anything new. That said, for the moment at least, X-Force is a “new” title; only time will tell if it has anything new to offer. For a first issue, this one manages to be fresh and entertaining; I’ll wait a couple of issues before deciding whether or not it’s a waste of talent.
Annie Gala will be hashtagging all weekend at #NYCC.
When Matt Lampert isn’t writing about comics, he’s a philosophy professor in New York City.
Chris Greenland is trending lowbrow today, every day.