Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quick Hits: Six New Comics for March 20 including Ultimate Spider-Man, The Private Eye, BPRD and More

In this week's Wednesday Review, I review Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman's latest Marvel superhero offerings, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's revolutionary The Private Eye, BPRD and more.

Ultimate Spider-Man (issue 21 out today) may very well be my favorite purely superhero superhero comic, if that makes any sense. There is nothing more complicated than superheroics going on, not that superheroics are simple for young Miles Morales. Miles, the best new character in comics, is still coming to terms with his powers and all the responsibility and risk to himself and his friends and family this means. His father is in the hospital, a victim of Peter Parker's old enemy Venom, a case of mistaken identity. For not-all-that complicated reasons, Venom thinks his dad is the new Spider-Man. Miles feels that he and his power set are responsible for his family's situation, and in many ways he is and in many ways it was an unavoidable aspect of what it means to be a superpowered human. The path forward is fraught: in an America fractured by catastrophic war and political strife, how does he confront the menace that Venom represents while protecting his family? And how does he protect his identity when the government knows who he is and the police are sniffing around his door? He's not alone in his drama, and people from the martyred Peter Parker's past come into Miles' life to aid him in his struggle. The formula that made the original Steve Ditko/Stan Lee Amazing Spider-Man works so purely timeless and remarkable - young man in over his head just trying to live his life and do right by his values and be there for his family, filled with drama and humor -  is perfectly encapsulated in Ultimate Spider-Man. The dialogue and personal encounters are presented effortlessly, the plotting logical and tight. Brian Bendis is home with this setting, this universe, these characters. His scripting is simply flawless, and he - and we - are spoiled by the artistic talents of Sarah Pichelli. Her increasingly assured art - seamlessly alternating between angular Spidey-in-fight (although Miles does not appear in costume in this issue) to the nightmare monstrosity of Venom on through to extended sequences of people, wonderfully acted, simply talking - is frankly exhilarating. Where everything that is bad and wrong and ugly with superhero comics is represented in Bendis's truly abysmal Age of Ultron, everything that is fun and stirring and electric about superhero comics, the potentiality of the form in all it's wonder, can be found in Ultimate Spider-Man.

The stakes for Miles in Ultimate Spider-Man are more personal, singular, where the stakes in Jonathan Hickman's Avengers work are global, universal, multiversal. A superb example of decidedly epic superhero sci-fi storytelling in the long-form can be found in this week's New Avengers 4 and Avengers 8 both written by Jonathan Hickman. In Avengers we get the fiery birth (more accurately violent intrusion) of the New Universe in the Marvel Universe. A new Star-Brand, a world-protector, has been forged in the form of a young unassuming college student, at the cost of thousands of lives. The Avengers, expanding their ranks to include many of the Marvel Universe's heaviest heavy hitters comes to the scene to retrieve the Star-Brand and control the potential outcome. But vast new power comes with fear and uncertainty. Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D. collaborator, Dustin Weaver turns in an issue of the wonderfully detailed and well-drafted art we have come to expect from him. In the more insular but no less epic New Avengers, the new Illuminati continue to dig the trench deeper as the dark cost of their actions begins to effect them. Nothing short of the Universe is at stake and they are willing to sacrifice an entire Earth to spare their own. But despite their own willingness to do the unthinkable, there morality prevents them from inaction when inaction would achieve their goals. This is a book of big ideas, from Dyson Spheres to Galactus and the anti-matter kitchen sink thrown in. Steve Epting's art here is some of his best, on Earth and an Earth and space, in heated conversation and a perfectly executed display of powers at odds. Everything that is and can be is at stake and the outcome is far from certain.

Moving on to my other favorite vividly realized shared universe in comics, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi's B.P.R.D. 105 continues to use the foundation of years of great storytelling and fun and unique concepts that make the Mignola-verse so continuously fresh and exciting. The Earth is a dark mirror of the one we know, with humanity in a state of constant war against interdimensional monsters who have overrun the entire globe. This is an international fight with borders being meaningless lines on a map. Splitting our time between the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense headquarters & the unexpected awakening of a key player, and the brutal environs of Siberia, the first part of "A Cold Day In Hell" effortlessly utilizes the rich setting and history and - always a dangerous concept - continuity that we've come to expect from the Hellboy/BPRD Universe. Where the various BPRD books have been hit-or-miss of late, this issue hits solidly on the sweet spot, the dark vision of a screwed world of monsters and menace wonderfully realized by Peter Snejbjerg and on art duties. Indeed Snejbjerg is probably the best artist to tackle BPRD-proper since Guy Davis left the book last year, and I look forward to a lot more from him here.

The world of comics was rocked this week (in a good way) by the literally unheralded release of the new Brian K. Vaughan/Marcos Martin comic The Private Eye. One could write volumes on the about the release, online under a frankly revolutionary DRM-free pay-as-you-please model in multiple languages. There have been webcomics for ages and all kinds of different models for payment, but nothing quite like this from two bona-fide A-listers on the cutting edge of their creative game. A widescreen 32 page comic, the story and high-concept - 70 years hence in a world of disguise and obfuscation where the press have a unique power and standing in a radically different internet-abolished society - and art, in all its technicolor futureshock glory just leap off the screen. That they are releasing it in the format that they are is a big factor in what will put this on the map, but if the story and art weren't there in quality the experiment would be a failure. Thankfully Vaughan and Martin are unimpeachably amazing and they execute what would be an assured head-turning best-seller in any traditional model. When so many comics are 20 pages of mediocre pap for four dollars, you can get 32 pages of amazing comic storytelling for whatever you want to pay, and where all the money goes to the creators. Try it for free then double back and pay for the value of pure story you receive, a high value indeed.

Private Eye and Saga from Vaughan and MIND MGMT from Matt Kindt came out this week, all superb examples of the true vanguard of the creator-owned renaissance. But all is not good in creator-owned land: last week saw thew release of a truly dreadful piece of nonsense in Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's Trigger Girl 6. Serialized in their mercifully canceled Creator Owned Heores anthology, I picked this up based on Phil Noto's artistic contributions. Though credited on the cover as almost an afterthought, his art here is just fine. It's the ham-fisted, downright stupid story from Palmiotti and Grey that makes this so awful. It starts out strong, with a futuristic superassassin targeting the President. Then the plot happens. It's a pretty bad when, even in a genre and medium accustomed to ridiculousness, that I can't accept (or even want to remotely explain) the gibberish that ensues. Just take the $5.99 that you thought you might want to spend on this and put it towards The Private Eye.

Private Eye is currently available for download at This week's comics provided by Jim Hanley's Universe, New York City's premier comic book store, Where Art and Literature Meet. 

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