Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Weekly Crisis Down Under Reviews for 12/15/10

More of your favourite reviews from the Southern Hemisphere. I’ve got a few different books, including some Dark Horse comped copies of new #1s like Conan: Road of Kings and Mighty Samson, as well as Thunderbolts, Strange Tales II, and Highland Laddie. Hit the jump to see what’s hot this week and what’s not.

Conan: Road of Kings #1

Written by Roy Thomas
Art by Mike Hawthorne, John Lucas
Colours by Dave Stewart

Roy Thomas helped originally build the Conan name in the four colour medium and here he returns to what he did so well. It’s is strange to see his style come into play as more recently Dark Horse have been publishing a superlative set of Conan comics written by Kurt Busiek. This series is given extra old flavour through Hawthorne's pencils who feels more Barry Windsor-Smith than Cary Nord.

This new #1 is actually a tale set number 76 in a series but Conan was originally a set of short stories. And those tales did not come chronologically so picking this up might refer to some past things but it doesn’t detract from the story at all. This can and does stand alone.

We open on Conan plundering a vessel at sea. He is in battle, where he belongs and where he works best. He’s a shrewd mind and yet he’s also readily prepared to kill if he must. He is true to character, which is nice. Conan is a different hero from most in that he’s always looking out for himself. He will do whatever it takes to make sure he comes out alive, and hopefully with some gain. A soldier of fortune more than a true hero.

But it must be said that Conan isn’t always looking to work a situation, sometimes he is simply content as is the case with his lady. Olivia. She is a princess, sold into slavery, and yet he’d rather just travel with her and be happy than try to work any sort of ransom out. It’s the simple things in life that get Conan by. He doesn’t want to be rich beyond all belief, he just wants to have enough money to buy that night’s mead, feed, and good deed.

If you’ve ever wondered what Conan would be like as a pirate then this is the comic for you. He leads his crew to treasure and frivolity but eventually their greed sends them into a trap. Conan does his best to deal with the situation but they are caught grossly unprepared and victory is denied him. Yet Conan never lets defeat get him down, he just lets it detour him into more fun and a fresh start. It’s refreshing to find a character so certain and confident and resilient. He rarely doubts himself and always manages to forge forward no matter what the situation.

The last pages of this comic find Conan off the high seas and setting about travelling the Road of Kings. It would seem that the entire issue was just a means of getting him there and that’s alright, Conan is all about divergent and tangential adventures and this has been a good one while also giving us all the information we need to go forward.

Verdict – Check It. This is a good Conan comic. There are greater ones out there but even a lesser Conan is still a good day. The art has an old feel like the good Conan comics from Marvel but the writing isn’t as verbose and intrusive. This is a pleasant start to what should be a decent miniseries. Well worth checking out if you like Conan.

Highland Laddie #5

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by John McCrea and Keith Burns
Colours by Tony Avina

The Highland Laddie mini has not overall impressed me greatly. However, last issue was just a big conversation between Wee Hughie and Annie and that was very good. It should have been in the pages of the main title, The Boys, as it was very important and well written. Here we get plenty more of the same so it's good but also doesn’t feel like much has moved on.

Hughie and Annie are still relatively awkward between each other and this is mostly because of Hughie. He just can’t process what he knows about her now and that’s always going to be a thorn in his side. What remains to be seen is if he will man up and just get over it. It really could go either way.

I still do not know why Ennis has forced this painter into Hughie’s life and thus the story. This guy is a great sounding board for Hughie and so expositionally makes things easily come out, but as far as narrative goes he just doesn’t fit. I’m sure there’ll be some contrived reason for his appearance in the next and last issue, and I get the feeling I know what it’ll be as Hughie’s past has been hinted at and for as many pieces of the puzzle as have been laid there are also those we know to be missing. If this suspected reveal comes to pass it will just seem strange to me. Even if it’s been hidden from us, why does Hughie think this guy has a sudden interest in him?

More conversation from Hughie and Annie is nice but it just feels like more of last month, and this story really needs to move ahead. Or at least I would think so except for the fact the rest of the story hinges on a drug shipment coming in and it being connected to one of Hughie’s good childhood friends, annoyingly introduced in the first 3 issues. It makes for a great excuse to have some fighting and blood shed but I honestly would have preferred this just be a romance comic between Hughie and Annie. I would more readily buy that than the contrived sub-plot forced into this one.

Why this all couldn’t be in the main title still eludes me.

Verdict – Byrne It. Might be hard to skim through all the pages with the amount of text and dialogue on offer but otherwise this entire mini has felt superfluous to me, sadly. I’m just waiting it out to be over. I’m sure the last issue will offer something important and I’ve invested far too much to miss it.

Mighty Samson #1

Written by Jim Shooter & J.C. Vaughan
Art by Patrick Olliffe
Colours by Dan Jackson

This comic, and character, was an old Golden Key concept that Dark Horse has picked up and brought into the new age of comics. It’s one of those bold endeavours that needs to be revitalised but also has to capture the charm of how things once were.

It’s a time after the world has supposedly ended and the tribes of Jerz and N’Yark fight against each other. The soldiers of Jerz even have blow-out hairstyles, it’s pretty funny. This alone might be enough to sour you on the comic, I will admit.

Through a trick more obvious than the Trojan Horse, and yet just as effective, the battle is swayed towards the Jerz. It is during the pillaging that they stumble across a baby who will be the Mighty Samson. The reveal of this baby and his power is a gross out panel made almost hilarious because it is the baby committing such a violent deed. It's goofily comical and doesn't help make this comic seem serious at all.

This comic works hard to be a mix of 300 in political interest and Kamandi in setting and scope. It might not be quite as good as either of those titles but this does have a certain charming quality to it. If you don't mind setting your brain tasers to 'It's Lame But Good In An MST3K Way'. Dialogue and action will make you laugh, and that's got to count for something.
After battle’s end, and a late change of flow, the baby and its mother flee the town because of his freakish strength, attributed to some sort of curse they’ve all seen before. If there have been lots of people turning into super-strong, albeit tumour riddled, behemoths then I’d say this culture is full of fools to sentence them to death. I’d say work them hard and constant while you can but instead they shy away from it. The mother is taken in by scavengers who are the vanguard of all the old books, laws, and culture. They take her in yet it seems strange the mother had not yet given her baby a name. It gives a good set up to name it Samson but otherwise just feels silly because most mothers have a name in mind, even in post-apocalyptic futures.

The tale then skips a few decades and comes back to Samson returning, with this mother, to N’Yark. As they do, they interrupt a staged invasion by corrupt officials. Samson does not know of the fake quality of this and only wishes to protect that which he knows he came from but has not yet seen. He takes on an army one-handed and comes off victorious. But the cowardly Jerz leader steps in to effect Samson’s life in a grave way. It's a sequence that barrels forward without making a lot of true sense.

The stage is then effectively set for Samson to become embroiled in this war between municipalities, even though I don’t really know why he would want to. He claims N’Yark as his home because he knows he was born there and yet he’s lived his whole life elsewhere. Why would he not want to protect the good people who cared for him, and knowledge, and instead want to help a bunch of people who cast him out for being different? I’d love this to turn into something different and have Samson bring them down from the inside but he doesn’t seem like that kind of guy. He’s relatively simple, quick to use fists, and far too trusting. As a character, he's not very well considered or portrayed.

Verdict – Avoid It. The art has a mix of old and new qualities but ultimately it makes the comic easy to read. It’s just up to you whether what you are reading is something good, great, grand, or garbage. I don’t think this is a bad comic, there’s something to like/mock about it, but it doesn’t feel like it has enough to hook me in for next month. I wouldn't want to spend money on this but as a drinking game this could definitely be something!

Strange Tales II #3

Written by Various
Art by Various

It’s interesting that this, the third issue of the series, is a Marvel Knights title whereas the first issue was rated MAX. I didn’t know you could change it around within the one mini, but I guess you can. I honestly didn’t notice that the second issue also did this. That’s kind of cool. In fact, this entire series has been cool in so many ways and I didn’t expect this one to let the team down too much.

I have loved Nick Bertozzi’s Watcher intro pages throughout this series. This one is titled “One Flew Over The Watcher’s Nest” and it should spawn a trend of people making Watcher themed movie titles and elevator pitches. You could tag it as #watcherflicks and do something like “Watcher Club – the first rule us, you have to watch”, although that one’s pretty lame so why not “An American Watcher In London – Uatu gets stuck in Picadilly Square wearing a balloon skirt with a werewolf chasing him”, yeah, that one works. Go forth, have fun.

Terry Moore brings us a simple and fun Thor that certainly makes you laugh. Any comic that can mention a ‘ha-penny’ or the mange gets my vote. But then it name-drops Festivus and I’m completely won over. Loki would definitely fail the feats of strength, and Odin certainly does have a lot of problems with him.

The tale is about Loki tricking Thor into falling in love with a pig. If I know my ancient mythological history well enough then I don’t even think this would raise too many eyebrows back then. But Thor doesn’t take to the ruse quietly and calls upon Mjolnir to help him, which he promptly throws away. The people tell him he should put a strap on it, and that he has four stains on his shirt, and so Thor straps Mjolnir to his wrist, but never gets the stains out. This is one of this perfect little independent nods to continuity that make fanboys smile while being exposed to a different art and writing style. It’s exactly what this series was made for.

James Stokoe then brings us Galactus and most people have already been impressed with the splash page he drew of the character, and it sure is gorgeous. It’s also interesting as the Silver Surfer wanders the Skrull planet as Galactus devours it. He sees three Skrulls playing a card game and so enquires. They deal him in and Stokoe does a good job of making each panel look intricate but also have something to say. It’s a very off-the-wall premise and yet the ending is so incredibly bittersweet. It catches you off guard how pointed this tale becomes. It is simply quite brilliant.

Benjamin Marra then offers up John Walker: U.S. Agent and he’s up against terrorism, spliced with ‘raptor DNA, and with a nuclear weapon on its back. That intro alone should tell you the type of awesome this tale work with. On route to heroism, Walker regales his female companion with tales all about how awesome he is. Then her clothes are ripped off by the Terror-Saur. Walker steps in with countless moves of his own terror and saves the day with John Wayne’s gun. If you can’t see Bruce Campbell in this role then you aren’t reading it right, I say. This tale might be stupid but it’s definitely my kind of stupid.

It’s also nice to get 3 tales into the book and have liked all that has been on offer. Usually by this stage one of the stories hasn’t grabbed me but these have all been awesome so far. Let’s continue.

Tim Hamilton gives us a goofy look at Machine Man. The alienated, and out-spoken about it, Ectoplasmic & Mysterious Occurences (EMO) Investigator is out on a call to Agatha Harkness. She is dealing with a horrendous problem involving Morbius, Baphomet, Damien Hellstrom, and little dead girls’ hearts. This tale is quite the rib poke at being a sad little anti-social being. It’s effective but not a perfect tale. It just annoys eventually, but that’s probably because I can’t stand the sad crowd, even when just making fun of them.

Kate Beaton shows us what happens when Rogue breaks Professor X’s favourite vase. He gets mad but she steals the cute power from a cat (because cats are cute) and all is quickly well again in the world. It’s a two-page punchline and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Dean Haspiel brings us a Kirby inspired mash up of Woodgod and Celestials. If I need to give you any more than that as a sell then you just aren’t on my wavelength. If that’s not enough how about the fact he’s making a move on Alicia Masters and so a showdown with the Thing is imminent? But the ultimate slice of awesome pie is the role stickball plays in the resolution. This story might not mean anything, or it might just contain the secrets of the universe. You must decide.

As for me, I’ve decided this tale is Grade A Awesome, with a side of ‘Hell Yeah’, so thank you Mr Haspiel.

T. Cypress shows us what happens when someone finds an actual number in an old Heroes for Hire issue. Turns out not to much happens, to be honest.

Michael Deforge shows Spidey, Jubilee, and Iceman taking a stroll. But then one dies, and Spidey’s not going down for this one, he wants to stay on the Avengers. It’s funny, but nothing more.

Alex Robinson shows us the FF before the accident as Reed goes on a blind date with Ben. Well, not WITH Ben, but Ben’s there, too. It’s a sweet little tale that ties into continuity. Well worth reading and very well put together with a mix of laughs and smiles.

Eduardo Medeiros brings us a Spidey team up with the Thing against Juggernaut. He treats the whole thing as a phone call ring around to bring a brawl together. It’s actually quite funny and the dialogue rings completely true for the aim. This one is a funny stand out and the art completely holds it all together.

Nick Gurewitch shows us Thor, Cap, and Hawkeye at a fair and when the strength tester doesn’t go so well Thor brings his own hammer into play. It’s filler but it’s fun.

The issue wraps up with Harvey Pekar meeting the Thing, with art by Ty Templeton. It’s a chat in the street as Grimm basically complains a lot and Pekar shrugs a lot of him off. Oh, and there’s Jewish talk. It’s a strange interlude and quite a different way to end the series, and remember Pekar now that he has passed.

Verdict – Buy It. This series is fun, it’s different, it’s exciting, it’s sweet. It’s just about everything you want from comics and it’s all in one bundle. That’s not too bad at all. Even when it’s not great it’s never really bad, it just underwhelms in parts but that’s more than made up for when it is brilliantly fantastic. I hope enough people have supported this title because Marvel should definitely do more like it, so long as the talent is doing it for love and ideas not just the money.

Thunderbolts #151

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Kev Walker
Colours by Frank Martin

The Thunderbolts are grounded. They tried to escape and Crossbones killed a cop, so Luke Cage is off on Avengers business and everyone else is grounded. Cabin fever is settling in quickly and quietly so Moonstone goes to pester Ghost. She uses her past skills as a psychologist, not to mention her revealing suit and far-too-full lips, to get Ghost to give up personal information. She is bored and wants to know who he is and how he came to be the thing he is now.

We discover Ghost was just another tech head at a big corporate company. He was their biggest asset and yet he was still quite similar to how he is now because he wasn’t very sociable or personable. He just didn’t know how to be. There’s a great scene where a girl asks him for help, and he obliges, he clearly just wants to be liked, and yet that girl is reprimanded for wasting his time. It’s a solid half a page that sells the fact that events conspired to keep him isolated, alone, disconnected.

The man who would become Ghost works hard to build his company the ultimate computing solution. He works so hard that he’s about to burn out, and yet the better he does the better the company will treat him, he knows that. So he invests his life with little reward, though he does get to close the deal with another nice nerdy girl. Things start to look up which always means they’re about to spiral very far down.

The girl dies, of course, and this sends him into a spiral. He commits himself to his work but in new and strange ways. He enters his own system, finds a way to use his brain at all times, and slowly comes to hate the world more and more. Then he truly learns why he should hate it and a corner is turned. He has been manipulated at every turn, perfect fuel for paranoid suspicions. Corporate intrigue becomes murder and Ghost is finally seeing the way the world works. And he hates it. He finds a way to make his new intangible technology work to his own desires and fulfil revenge for him.

Ghost goes about killing the others like some sort of biotechnological Parker from the Stark books. It is personal and he plans ahead smartly. He then wipes his own fingerprint from history and sets off to do what he sees as good in the world, he wants to destroy corporate scheming within the world. He’s an interesting villain because he really wants to do right, and you can see at the start that is exactly what he does. He just does it a little more harshly than most would like.

After the conversation, Ghost asks Moonstone what it all means, does he tell her because he can trust again or because he doesn’t think of her as a threat? Either way, he doesn’t really care, he still sees himself as untouchable so his actions won’t truly hurt him. It’s an interesting coda to the tale.

We then get a sneak peak at which villain will replace Crossbones on the Thunderbolts team. SPOILERS: It’s Hyperion. Should make for a good team, I say.

Verdict – Check It. This issue is a good one-shot, and very enjoyable, but it doesn’t feel like anything you absolutely must read. It’s fun and it’s thin and it’s a good little back story but it doesn’t push too much forward. Perhaps Parker will use this origin later on for some reason, and it would be cool if he could tie it in, but overall this issue is solid but not perfect. Definitely check it out, though.

What did you read this week? Throw your own mini reviews in the comments section, or add your thoughts on mine!

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Max Barnard said...

Man, I can't even begin to get where you're coming from with Highland Laddie. I mean I guess I'm obviously crippled by not having read any other The Boys material save Herogasm, but this mini has been filling me with joy from each issue to the next. Such class stuff.

Yeah that's right Ryan, I'm rebelling against your so-called BIAS REVIEWS THAT CAN'T BE TRUSTED! What cha gonna do about it?

... nothing?

... Oh... I'll just get back to Thought Balloons then.

Seriously though, other than disagreeing on that front class reviews all round

Batroc the Leaper said...

Just FYI, it's "en route" not "on route".

Anonymous said...

It's funny they even had Crossbones on Thunderbolts. The dude is just pure heel. Nothing will turn him around.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Max - compared to the Boys, Highland Laddie is just trash, mostly. The last two isses have been decent, well, issue 4 was aweosme anyway, but the set up was horrendous. Horrendous!!! :)

@Batroc - You are so very right it's not funny, when you pointed it out I thought to myself 'but I didn't write it in either way"...weird. Such a dumb, mistake. cheers.

@Anon 3 - Man, I love Crossbones, love him! I don't expect him to become a hero, don't want him to, but he's bloody interesdting, has been since Streets of Poison!

brandon said...

The Hughie mini series is simply overkill.

The conversation between Annie and Hughie is the only relevant item in it and it could have been a one shot. Putting Hughie back in his world prior to V doesnt make sense. It actuallly makes his character boring which isnt the case in the regular series. Add in that the new characters created for this mini are uninteresting and this mini borders on wasting the reader's time compared to the main series.

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