Sunday, December 15, 2013

Comics Round Up: Week of December 11

The Comic Round Up column aims to get some words down on comics published for the week. This weeks reviews are handled by the National Wax Poetics Council. There's just too many great books coming out from Valiant, BOOM!, Monkeybrain, and Dark Horse that don't get enough attention. We hope to rectify this issue and inform you on what it is you should be reading and what makes it to the tops of our buy piles.

This week we are reviewing Brain Boy #0, Star Wars #12, Wraith #2, Halo: Escalation #1, Archer and Armstrong #16, The X-Files Season 10 #7, and WWE Superstars #1. All with more romanticism than can be found on my mom's bookshelf.

Brain Boy #0 

Story by Fred Van Lente
Art by Freddie Williams II
Colours by Ego

Gord Cummings: This is a collecting of work that previously appeared in Dark Horse Presents. It tells the story of a telekenetic who is contracted by the government to provide a last check when dignitaries are to appear. 

So what would you expect of something like this, especially something that came out this quietly? Maybe some big explosions and some of the trials of being a telekenetic and how it's a burden? Actually, the main character "Brain Boy" would probably make fun of those cliches as well. What we get instead is a really quick intro to this character that offers dynamic action and surprising little tricks. Very reminiscient of Mysterious The Unfathomable (a modern classic) in that we never know what to expect or what is in the bag of tricks. 
This is fresh. Very far from what is to be expected. Although the protagonist is a hero who we see develop over the course of the content, he is not taken seriously by those who contract him out. 
Beyond the character stuff though, we get a sense of the world that these events are taking place in. Van Lente has built for us a world where very serious conversations are boiled down into rote call centre scripts and trouble shooting in the form of pill popping. Cool idea and probably a reality that's not so far off in real life. 
I look forward to where things go in this story. Apparently we get an appearance of the "Men From Gestalt". Anything remotely having to do with Fritz Perls is something you can count me in for.  
Verdict: Buy it

  Star Wars #12

Story by Brian Wood
Art by Carlos D'Anta
Colour by Gabe Eltaeb

Gord Cummings: In case you haven't been following along on this chapter of Star Wars, the rebels are being hunted as they try and find a place to root while they get their act together. Amongst it all is trouble from Darth Vader, of course, and an appearance from Mon Mothma's nephew, Kell Bircher. Can we trust Kell or is he a double agent (dah dah dahhhh)?

I know that sounds a bit like mockery, but when you pick up a Star Wars comic you should be expecting at least one of the above to be included. The thing about this series though is that it is interesting and it got me to buy into the franchise comics from Dark Horse. In fact this is one of the titles I frequently look forward to. 

Wood has introduced some much needed excitement into the comic side of the franchise. His characters are smart and in this issue specifically we get a good sense as to the emergence of Leia and Wedge's leadership. There's a pretty significant event in the history of Star Wars lore that happens in this issue. I'm not telling you what it is and you can't make me. Go get the comic for yourself. 

One thing that I am really digging about this series that the art has been consistent from the beginning. Sure, these are Luke and C3P-0 and the gang, but these characters belong very much to D'Anda. They are D'Anda's Luke and C3P-0 and the gang because of his unique sensible cartoon like style with heavy borders. I dig it. 

I do have a couple of issues with the comic and they're pretty minor. One: There's a secondary plot point that's been going on since the first arc that seems to be going nowhere. Second: The lettering. You likely shouldn't notice lettering unless it's done really well or there's a slight mistake. There is a slight mistake in here and it feels like this may have been rushed. Good thing the smooth art and story make you roll right along into another Star Wars cliffhanger!

Verdict: Check It.

Wraith #2

Story by Joe Hill
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III
Colour by Jay Fotos

Mike Newhouse-Bailey: Joe Hill continues to paint a grisly backstory of the antagonist from NOS4A2, Charles Manx.  This is definitely not a comic for the faint of heart, but if you are a horror fan or enjoy the writings of Hill's dad, Stephen King, then this may be worth your time.

While the story of Manx breaking out of his prison transport van is nothing to get too excited about, Hill's ability to create feelings of disgust and revulsion towards the vile Manx warrant your attention.  The conversation that takes place as Manx is hatching his scheme angered me and was difficult to read.  Hill is good at pushing his characters well beyond established social norms in a realistic fashion that evokes a lot of emotion from the reader.  Manx is clearly a demented individual, and as a fan of NOS4A2 I have enjoyed gaining an insight to his psyche. 

While it is very strange to read a comic from Hill that isn't illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, Charles Paul Wilson III does a phenomenal job in his portrayal of Manx.  Manx clearly holds no remorse for his actions and is a living nightmare to look at.  Wilson's ability to portray realistic gore pair well with the tone of Hill's writing.

This is a difficult title to fully recommend to a casual reader.  If you are familiar with Hill's work, particularly his novels, then you will enjoy this title.  As someone who thorough enjoyed NOS4A2, it has been a pleasure to see this vision delivered in the comic medium.  We visit Christmasland in the next issue so it is a good time to get on board.

Verdict: Check It.

Halo: Escalation #1

Story by Chris Schlerf
Art by Sergio Arino
Colour by Michael Atiyeh

Mike Newhouse-Bailey: Taking place in the aftermath of Halo 4, Escalation takes the focus off of Master Chief, and gives attention to Sarah Palmer and Thomas Lasky.  The Brutes and the Elites are battling over scarce resources and Palmer and company hope to reach a peaceful agreement.  

I admit that I don't know anything about the world of Halo outside of the video games.  At times it feels that this book is targeted at the hardcore Halo fan and not the casual reader.  It has been quite some time since I played a Halo title, but it felt like I was diving into the middle of a series, not issue #1.  Schlerf does a nice job establishing a premise that could be milked in an ongoing series, but did little to hook me.  

The art from Arnino seemed to suffer from some inconsistencies as well. His character design is good, but the pages felt flat for the most part.  Nothing was horrible, but nothing was particularly memorable.

There is potential in this series, but it is doubtful I will join Palmer and Lasky in any future adventures.  It largely felt uninviting to the uninitiated, which is all too common in the comics world.  If you are a big Halo fan then I am guessing you already picked this up and could care less what some stranger on the internet says.

Verdict: Byrne It.

Archer and Armstrong #16 

Written by Fred Van Lente
Art by Khari Evans with ChrisCross
Color Art by David Baron with Allen Passalaqua
Covers by Clayton Heny and Michael Walsh
Letters by Simon Bowland

Brad Brown: This is part three of The Sect Civil War storyline, and as someone who hasn’t been reading Archer and Armstrong, I felt lost . . . but totally excited to find what I have been missing.

After a sequence in ancient Egypt, the book opens properly in Barcelona, Spain, where Mary-Maria Conchita Alonso Archer is about to be killed by the Sect leadership in a church with painted-glass windows depicting Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. These plans are ruined by the Black Bloc, a group of characters with block masks that sport emoticons. The Black Bloc scream things like “Battle cry!” and “Catchphrase!”

That’s just the opening.

Archer and Armstrong is wild fun, and even without context for why what’s happening matters, it’s clear that Van Lente has packed the book with action, humor, and nonsense—you know, comic book stuff. Khari Evans with ChrisCross hold everything together with cool character designs and pacing.

Verdict: Buy It

The X-Files Season 10 #7

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Elena Casagrande with Silvia Califano
Colors by Arianna Florean with Azzurra M. Florean
Color assist by Valentina Cuomo
Letters by Neil Uyetake and Gilberto Lazcano

Brad Brown: Previously in The X-Files, Mulder was left in a sewer surrounded by multiple Flukemen, which, yes, are versions of that Flukeman, the weird rubber leech monster from Season Two that gave you nightmares when you were seven. (Or was that just me?)

The first arc of this series was table-setting, undoing some of the show’s ending and maneuvering the characters into places where stories can be told about them. This second storyarc, Hosts, has felt fan-servicey.

Joe Harris with artist Elena Casagrande do a great job of creating a comic that feels like The X-Files. The tone, the pacing, the dialogue, and the atmosphere—it’s all here. Each issue even includes a teaser before the title, which triggers your memories of the familiar theme song. However, in addition to the strengths, the flaws of the show are also present; this comic's reveal is loosely explained and our main characters are pulled out of danger through the magic of being the main characters.

That said, it is hard to fault Harris and Casagrande when they are being completely faithful to the source material. If you have nostalgia for the best creepy 90’s paranoia sci-fi show, you will want to check this out.

Verdict: Check It

WWE Superstars #1

Written by Mick Foley with Shane Riches
Art by Alitha Martinez
Colors by Jay Jay Jackson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

Brad Brown: Former WWE Champion, hardcore legend, and best-selling author Mick Foley writes fever-dream fan fiction about his coworkers, but instead of publishing it on the Internet to get lost between "Sterek" Teen Wolf fics and whatever depravity you can do to Sora with a Keyblade, Foley took it to Super Genius to be published as a comic.

WWE Superstars reimagines the WWE Universe as Titan City, where Randy Orton is running a corrupt reelection campaign against Alberto Del RioJohn Cena is a wrongfully imprisoned police officer, and CM Punk is trying to organize some sort of protest rally but can’t get the Undertaker, who is a tattoo artist, to join up. Also, Daniel Bryan randomly spray paints “Yes!” on things as either some sort of anarchist challenge or bizarre Banksy-esque expression. And sometimes Randy Orton takes time off from his campaign to RKO people in a wrestling ring. It’s unclear if he a pro-wrestler/politician or if pro-wrestling has simply been fully integrated into the culture.

Foley is a good speaker and writer, but his talent for words is not on display here. The first line of the comic is John Cena saying “You can’t see me.” Because it’s his catchphrase. And because he’s in jail. You literally can’t see him. Because he's in jail. Get it?

The art in this is pretty solid. You can tell who everyone is supposed to be and what they are doing in each panel, and while that may seem like feint praise, most wrestling comics don’t meet this standard. Though I suspect Alitha Martinez is phoning things in, the art reveals a competent storyteller whose time could be better spent.

If you believe comics should be entertaining, this is certainly that. It’s page after page of crazy, what-the-heck-is-even-happening weirdness. So while I’m giving this a Byrne It, there’s an implied “This is awesome maybe?” chant starting in the cheap seats.

Verdict: Byrne It

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