Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Quick Hits: Ten New (and Newish) Comics and Collections for Wednesday, April 10

In this week's Wednesday Review I look at a bunch of new comics from this week (and last week, while we're at it) including Thanos, Batman, Spidey, Adventure Time, Marvel NOW and more.

(And while you're here, check out my reviews on the new releases Indestructible Hulk 6 and Julio's Day.)

Adventure Time, come on and grab your friends. Fionna and Cake 4 drops today and we get yet another fabulous comic written and illustrated by Fionna creator Natasha Allegri. Much like Meredith Gran's superb Marceline mini-series - truly actually seriously one of 2012's best comics - the side series continue to be better than the ongoing Adventure Time book. Which isn't to say that Adventure Time proper is bad, it's quite good. It's clever and fun and zany but it just doesn't click the same way Fionna and Marceline do. Part of the appeal of Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake is that this isn't just some all-ages perfunctory hackwork thing for Allegri, she created these characters for the Adventure Time television show, and they are clearly near and dear to her heart. The gender-swapped universe of Fionna and Cake is far more than just a Rule 63 version of the Adventure Time universe, these are fully fleshed out characters with their own unique perspective on the world of Ooo. Allegri's Fionna is a fierce, independent teenage girl who likes to punch stuff and she's pretty awesome. In this week's number 4 we get a largely stand-alone issue: the ongoing drama of what the Ice King did to the Fire Elemental gets a sliver of exposition, but the focus is on Lumpy Space Prince, just as divinely ridiculous as L.S. Princess. He steals Fionna's magic wand to make himself beautiful. The introduction to this sequence is just as stunning as the first magical pages of issue one, with the mini-series characteristic flowing script on an all black page, "To be on the cusp of impossible beauty has been my curse since the day I was born..." A remarkable sequence of simple beauty, followed by a series of wonderfully silly misadventures, cured by good ole fashioned punching. Allegri's cartooning is inspired and full of love and life. This is a wonderful comic in every aspect, delightful, whimsical, funny, elegant in story and art and lettering. Even for casual fans you can dive right into this without the other issues, and the rewards to loyal Adventure Time fans are legion. Not as deep as Gran's Marceline and the Scream Queens but just as good, this is shaping up to be one of the best series of the year.

I'm a huge fan of Jason Aaron. Scalped is one of the comic medium's true masterpieces, and I have always been consistently entertained by his superhero work for Marvel. Thanos (the world destroying Mad Titan) is a big deal for Marvel right now - for Marvel the comic publisher he will be playing a significant role in Brian Bendis's cosmic books and Jonathan Hickman's Avengers, for Marvel the movie studio he's the Big Bad of Phase Two. Marvel's got a lot invested in Thanos right now, so an origin-type mini-series written by Aaron sounds like a pretty awesome idea. Except the execution of the opening chapter that new series is just kind of lame. Thanos Rising #1 not bad, it just kindof is, and that's all. Featuring art by Simone Bianchi, (who I've never really cottoned to, to be honest) the book opens with Thanos meandering the ruins of Titan (Saturn's moon which once hosted an advanced sentient species). Titan, and many another world, lies in ruins because of Thanos, and his perambulations are a trip down memory lane, back to when he was but a wee lad, many years before he would develop his infatuation with the lady Death. Born with a mutation that made him all purpley and odd looking, his father was a well-regarded (royal?) scientist-type who always accepted him. Thanos's mother on the other hand, immediately upon his birth (with possibly the best case of mother's intuition in the history of the galaxy) tried to kill him. She was rewarded with a lifetime stay in the looney bin for her prescience. Anyway, we get small vignettes of Thanos as a kid mercilessly taunted um, completely accepted by his peers. As a student he gleefully tortured animals uh, was queasy around scientific dissections. There was a small incident where some of his friends died and a weird girl was taking a liking to him, but nothing all that traumatic. Aaron doesn't exactly follow what one would expect of such an origin, which is nice, but honestly, the book is kind of toothless. It's unimpressive fluff. I didn't know what to expect going in, but I didn't expect the book to be boring, which, sadly, it was. (This week's Thor was really, really good though. Read that.)

Oh, Dan Slott, you continue to surprise me by how much I LOVE Superior Spider-Man including last week's new number 7. I was mad-skeptical going in and every issue you win me over more and more. Spider-Otto has been going a bit too far of late, killing a dude a couple of issues back (a really bad guy, sure, but still killing). This murder had a handful of the Avengers debating what the dilly with Spidey, killing is just too far, though they do nothing at first because of the Avengers discussing this - Captain America, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Thor, Wolverine - all have killed in the past (a couple have killed lots of folks). The final straw is Spidey's mercilessly savage beatdown of some c-list publicity hounds and the good guy Cardiac. Killing is one thing, but Spider-Man losing his cool before the world and going after those below him is just bad for business, and the Avengers finally confront him, much to ghost-Peter's delight. About damn time, too. Slott's scripting is energetic, logical, nasty fun, Humerto Ramos on art is Humberto Frickin' Ramos just killing it. Most of the issues are self contained or super easy to dive into, so if you've been on the fence about reading this, just do it. It's so weird and different and fun and cool.

DC's Animal Man 19 from Jeff Lemire and Steve Pugh was the first issue after the recent, long cross-over with Swamp Thing involving something called the Rot. Swamp Thing is the avatar of the Green, Animal Man Buddy Baker (actually his young daughter) is the avatar of the Red (animals, logically), and for far too many issues they fought the rot, death and the like. Whatever, I stopped reading both when that crossover began and issue 19 was the first part after that whole mess, a nice jumping-back-on point. Unfortunately, the issue was one long extended bit of hand-wringing over the death of Buddy's son in issue 18. A lot of Buddy confronting the elders of the Red demanding they bring his son back to life, his wife leaving him over the death, lots of boohoohooing. Yeah, kids' deaths suck, I get it, but when can I get the entertaining comic about Buddy Baker that the initial New 52 story arc showed was possible? Because if there is more of this slog through grief and yadda yadda, I'm just going to drop the bloody book again.

Everyone! Buy lots of these! They'll put your kids through college, for reals!
Hey, speaking of getting your son killed, lets check in on Batman! Things are dark and weird in Batman and Robin 19. Bruce Wayne is frankly off his rocker, going after Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (Frankenshade to the cool kids) because Frankenstein is some weird undead dude and Batman can totally use him to resurrect Damian! Riiiight, Bruce, chill out homie, you're barking up the wrong tree with this and - oh, too late, you're already disassembling Frankie stitch by stitch while raving like a madman and oh, look at all those cadavers you totally just stole. Red Robin shows up and tries smacking some sense into him, but that dude too far gone. Bruce is a mess, this book is a mess, at least there' symmetry. Oh, and about that cover - Batman on the front, and behind the gatefold (oh, yeah, DC is doing gatefolds this month, viva la 90s) is Carrie Kelly as Robin. That would be the Future Robin from the Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns continuity. What the Frankenstein is she doing on the cover? Is she the new Robin? Well, no. See, unknown to Bruce (and conveniently the audience) she'd been giving Damian acting lessons or something and shows up at Wayne manner demanding payment and to know where the kid is for more lessons. Bruce eventually tracks her down to her place where she's having a costume party and she's dressed as Robin, hoho! Kelly is written as a firebrand of some entertainment, but the concept is as messy as the whole Frankenshade A-story and doesn't actually end with her as Robin or even going in that direction. Sure this is the first DCU appearance of the character, but its a bit disingenuous, to be generous. Over in Batman 19 there are some mistaken identity shenanigans going on that are obvious, really. Plus some Bruce brooding over dead Damian that's more effective than the siliness in And Robin. A very efficient, straight-forward, really well put together Batman comic. Snyder and Capullo for the Bat-win, as usual. Also, a Superman/Batman back-up with art by Alex Maleev? Say what? That shizz isn't even on the cover. A nice little surprise for your $3.99.

A few new Marvel NOW collections came out last week, including All-New X-Men by Brian Bendis and Stuart Immonen and Fantastic Four/FF by Matt Fraction, Michael & Laura Allred and Mark Bagley. First, in All-New X-Men: Yesterday's X-Men (collecting the first five issues in hardcover), Bendis has the X-Men team from the 1960s brought to the present by a dying Hank McCoy to teach current Scott Summers a lesson. A shifty premise that I doubted even more than Superior Spider-Man going in. I tried it out because of Immonen on the art, and I stuck with it because it's a surprisingly entertaining comic that doesn't stretch believability too much. A nice opener for the new era of Scott Summers renegade, the book is just a lot of fun, plain and simple, and holds together very nicely. In Fantastic Four: New Departures, New Arrivals, we get the first three issues each of Matt Fraction's Fantastic Four with Mark Bagley and FF with Michael Allred. Marvel's decision to alternate the two titles in one volume is doubly perplexing because the storylines don't really alternate lock-step after the first issues, and they didn't do this with the end of Jonathan Hickman's superb run which absolutely did alternate. Frustrating, but whatever. The Bagley stuff has the first family going out on a trip through time and space on Reed Richards' behest, FF follows the gloriously Allred/Allred illustrated adventures of the replacement heroes at the Future Foundation. I've been enjoying the Allred stuff way more than the Bagley stuff, weird heroes and odd story be damned, and would have much more appreciated an Allred only volume (though it looks like subsequent volumes will thankfully be separate). This is Marvel and you take what you can get, and at least at six issues of content the $15.99 price point is a great value, so unlike Marvel of late. (And also new in hardcover is Iron Man: Believe, collecting the first five issues of the Marvel NOW relaunch. Well, I can't believe how wretched Greg Land's art is. Not even the normally excellent Kieron Gillen can overcome it. Just spend fifteen bucks more and get the first nineteen issues of Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca's superb run in one fantastic deluxe hardcover instead.)

And speaking of Fantastic Four, aw, gee wiz, this week's new number 6 was a BLAST. The Fam Four (well, six, but that's not as alliterative) goes back to the Big Bang and run into a Big Bad who's a BLAST from the past. (Once you read the issue, my puns here will be infinitely more clever to you, I swear.) The issue is packed with sci-fi adventure, humor and action. It's a damned fine superfamily superhero comic. A good stand-alone issue, too, and I love a good one-shot.

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