Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quick Hits: 9 Newish Comics for Wednesday, April 24 including Jupiter's Legacy, Adventure Time, Batwoman, FF and More

It was a huge week of releases - my stack was thirty books deep - with some truly extraordinary comics to give quality to the quantity. In this week's Wednesday Review I look at a bunch of new comics from the past two weeks including Jupiter's Legacy, Adventure Time, Batwoman and much more, and I throw some love at FF and MIND MGMT which were a couple of the best single issues I've read this year. 

Leading with Adventure Time again, this time the series-proper. Adventure Time by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb has been consistently entertaining, but for me often lags behind the spin-off minis like Fiona & Cake and Marceline & The Scream Queens. Indeed, when I voted in this year's Eisner Awards, I didn't vote for Adventure Time despite its many nominations (I did vote for Meredith Gran's Marceline, however). As I've said before, Adventure Time isn't bad at all, it's just that the several serialized stories, while entertaining, have been too long and don't quite hold up over several issues. But Adventure Time 15 is a self-contained one-shot, and it's also the best issue of the series so far. In the issue, Magic Man shows up and ruins Princess Bubblegum's Princess Tea Party, and naturally Fin & Jake save the collected princesses from his evildo. Unfortunately, they're blasted with a magic ray that removes their ability to speak - EXCEPT they can talk in pictograms that appear over their head in word balloons, word balloons the other characters can see and try to interpret. This is a wonderfully ingenious use of the language of comics within the very story and word balloons themselves. In a story where the Princesses are the ones saving the day, there are plenty of laugh-out-load moments throughout including priceless Lumpy Space Princessisms. This feels like a solid episode of Pendleton Ward's astonishing television series, full of energy, fun little character moments and snappy dialogue, except it exists so solidly within the language of comics that it can only exist on the comic page. Adventure Time 15 is inventive, clever, and a hell of a lot of fun - it almost made me regret snubbing it at the Eisners, but if North, Paroline & Lamb keep giving us issues like this they'll get my vote next year.

In a week where The Massive (literally) almost jumped the shark, MIND MGMT (along with this week's FF) had one of the best single issues I've read this year. In MIND MGMT 10 Matt Kindt gives us a largely self-contained issue that continues to build on the labyrinthine superspy epic he's been building to since the beginning. The focus is on Duncan, a private investigator who is also a very powerful telepath: he can sense the thoughts and desires of every living thing within a fifteen mile radius. (For a man who can pretty much get whatever he wants, this is a profession chosen out of ennui rather than challenge or desire.) Rather than being overwhelming, the key element of his power - like a supertelepathic version of Laplace's Demon1 - is that by knowing the position and intention of every living thing around him he can process the direction of reality and even bend it to his whim by subtle manipulation. Lyme and Meru need Duncan and the power he wields, and the second half focuses on the central question of how to get to someone, how to surprise someone as powerful as Duncan. The first half is a layered and detailed examination of character and intention, the thoughts and feelings swimming around Duncan throughout as an effective and integral part of the milieu as Kindt's beautiful watercolors. From the telepaths of the Marvel Universe to indy works like Bodyworld, explorations of telepathy in comics are frankly nothing new, but here Kindt's presentation of Duncan's powers and Lyme & Meru's attempts at confronting him utilize Kindt's unique visual style in breathtaking and effective ways. Kindt is consistently upping the creative ante with every issue of this phenomenal series, and you can even read issue ten as a stand-alone tale. (If you've been meaning to read MIND MGMT, pick this issue up or get issue one as part of Dark Horse's One for $1 reprint series, or read my review of the first volume here.) And as for this week's aforementioned issue of Brain Wood's The Massive (also from Dark Horse), Declan Shalvey's art is a decided disservice to the tale, not that Wood's absurd story is much better. Hopefully this is just a hiccup in an otherwise interesting and well-produced series, but if the downturn continues one could easily see issue 11 as the point where the book figuratively - and quite absurdly enough, literally - jumps the shark.

One of the best new Marvel Now books is Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers. This book is fresh and entertaining and such a joy to read, and Gillen has a solid grasp of these characters. In each issue, Gillen utilizes the many strengths of his longtime collaborator McKelvie, who's bold line and innovative layouts are a perfect fit for the story. About once an issue Gillen & McKelvie come to the line represented what we usually get in superhero fare, and they obliterate it. In their work on this series they are simply shattering mainstream conventions, with wit and a smile. More than a gimmick, their stunning and inventive constructions play with the language of comics like it was their own personal toy, all while dropping bombs rooted in interpersonal relationships and genuine character drama. This week's issue four finally brings the team together ("Come with me if you want to be awesome." Yes, please.) while showing that Kid Loki is still Loki, the liesmith, the manipulator of truths, the seeder of doubt. It exists in triptych with Matt Fraction's Hawkeye and FF as the best of Marvel Now, modern, post-superheroic superhero supercomics. And this week's FF - with fill-in Joe Quinones aping Allred/Allred fairly effectively - was just as good as Young Avengers, achieving extraordinary heights in its self-contained one-shot. The Yancy Street Gang are up to shenanigans that Scott Lang deviously unravels, Dragon Man looks for a missing Bentley in a cutaway Baxter Building to take your breath away, and one of the single best pages of the year gives us a moment of acceptance and beauty and love, funny and touching and exhilarating throughout. Fantastic Four has always been about family, and that even when you're not related, its the family you chose and fight for and love despite and because of who they are that matters. Astonishing stuff.
The only reason I read Batwoman is for J.H. Williams III's art. Williams is an extraordinary artist, utilizing multiple styles of illustration and innovative whole-page layouts that make his work distinct from pretty much everyone else working in comics. The downside is that his work takes a while, so we are often left with mediocre fill-ins. And I really have not been liking his work as a writer on the title - the whole story with La Llorna just doesn't interest me, and I miss the work Greg Rucka did with Williams on Batwoman when she was introduced in Detective Comics a few years ago. That's why Batwoman 19 was a pleasant surprise. Trevor McCarthy's art utilizes a lot of the same visual tricks that Williams often uses without it seeming like he was ripping off Williams' style. McCarthy's stuff finds the balance where his art is visually cohesive with Williams' while being just different enough. It feels right for the title even though it obviously isn't Williams. And the story holds up, too. In it the DEO are manipulating Batwoman into going after Batman (with a nice little twist at the end), and Batwoman & Flamebird's family come to terms with Flamebird's new vigilantism. The Flamebird stuff is really fascinating, actually. Jacob Kane, who supports Kate Kane's work as Batwoman, is also supporting Kate's cousin Bette in her new identity as Flamebird. There is some craziness that must come into play when you risk your life and get dressed up and go out and punch criminals. One could make the argument that supporting someone who does this makes you partially responsible for what happens to them. Bette has almost been killed once already, and yet her family are choosing to enable her dangerous activities. Ultimately how is this different than a family that ignores a person's drug addiction or self-abusive behavior? Even worse, the Kanes are actively encouraging it. Unsurprisingly when it comes to the Bat-family of characters, someone is put in a situation they shouldn't be, be it small children or just plain untrained people fighting supervillains. And far too often with the Bat-books, these issues are raised but not ultimately addressed - sure Batman got his son killed, but that's not going to stop him from recruiting another Robin, indoctrinating another child soldier. In Batwoman, we see the role family plays in this brand of superheroics, and in their irresponsible enabling it is a profoundly negative and potentially destructive one.

Reading a Frank Quitely comic not written by Grant Morrison is like reading a Sean Phillips comic not written by Ed Brubaker (and we get one of those, too, in this week's Dark Horse Presents). In the first issue of the much much much anticipated Jupiter's Legacy out this week from Image, Mark Millar and Frank Quitely give us a superhero tale focusing on the latest generation of superpowered people, the immediate descendents of the first generation of superheroes that rose up in the dark hours of Depression-era America. The first third is about the quest for those powers, one man's dreams infected by a mysterious island and the island that gave rise to superheroes. The second third is a modern-day battle between some superheroes and some random supervillain that has a really, really cool moment & panel that brings the fight to a stop only to devolve into tired arguments about the role of superheroes in the modern era of corporate malfeasance in the great recession. The last third is a dull look at some young superpowered twentysomethings as they hang out at a club and overdose on spacecoke. The entire thing is startlingly underwhelming. There is great focus on the idealism of the golden age heroes and the cynicism and lack of service in the modern age heroes, but the idealistic golden-agers and their motivations in the 1930s are more than a little silly, and the modern-agers are just dull celebutantes. And the argument about the role of modern superheroes was overwrought and just plain dumb in a been-there-done-that kind of way. The ending of the issue is sudden and barely shrugworthy. Quitely's art is of course stunning, but he's trying to spin gold out of straw and it's just not working. The anticipation for Jupiter's Legacy has seemed to reach a fever pitch, as a new creator-owned superhero book from a couple of the industry's top-flight a-list talents should (though, lets be honest, Millar is a huckster's huckster, a hustler's hustler who can sell water to a fish). It's just a damn shame that the book isn't very good.

And speaking of pretty and dumb... If there's something that can be said about Frank Cho, it's that he's good at drawing dinosaurs and boobs and butts and, apparently, big gorillas. There's much to criticize about his style, mainly the lack of variation in the female form - but the one body he loves to draw he loves to draw well. Beyond the eye-rollingly scantily clad women populating his stories, he's a damn fine craftsman with a detailed style. It's cheesecake, for sure, but it's high quality cheesecake. In Savage Wolverine 4, writer/illustrator Cho keeps on giving us a Shanna the She-Devil story with Wolverine and Amadeus Cho in the Savage Land. There is much stabbing and there are dinosaurs and it's all very dumb. But it is pretty in a shallow, vacuous kindof way. Far less shallow and far more entertaining is Chris Samnee's art in Daredevil 25. Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera are hard acts to follow but Samnee manages to pull it off with style. In the story written by Mark Waid, someone with powers similar to Daredevil is coming after the Man Without Fear, and DD may have met his match. While the ending is a little silly (just finish him off!) the art throughout is pretty amazing.

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