Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dark Horse / Image Comic Reviews 8/13/14

We're back with our weekly comic book round ups and this time we are adding in some Image with our Dark Horse love. We have titles like Genius, Imperial, Tomb Raider, Spread, Pariah, and more! Hit the jump for all that review goodness.

Our weekly comic reviews will now be focused on Dark Horse and Image. We can't cover all of the titles, but we hope to hit as many as possible from these two publishers each week.

The reviews are graded according to the following scale:

Must Read -- Do not miss this hot piece of comic action!
Buy It -- For memories sake.
Check It -- This is a toss up. Up to you really.
Byrne It (skim it on the rack). -- Look at it but don't leave with it.
Avoid It -- Steer clear.


Imperial #1
Story by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Marc Dos Santos

CeeJay: Steven T. Seagle’s Imperial throws you right into its basic premise within the first few pages. In the period leading up to his wedding, Mark McDonnell is tapped by his childhood hero, celebrity-savior Imperial, to replace him as the world’s premier superhero. Immediately repulsed by the idea, Imperial persists in dropping Mark headfirst into situations that no normal man could survive.

Imperial sets up a pretty interesting premise but does very little with it in the initial issue of this title. It has a lot of potential but it sort of works like the opening fifteen minutes of a television pilot. You get broad characterizations of the major players and the first few steps into what the plot will eventually be but this first issue leads me to believe that Imperial will be better a better read once a few trades come out.

The art is fine – serviceable’s the word. The settings are well realized and detailed and the figures are okay. There’s just nothing very stylized about it and from the premise and the humor base that the issue sets up, it seems like a book like this would lend itself to some stylization. All in all, Imperial was a quick, inoffensive read that could show a lot of promise going forward. Here’s hoping it’ll pull anInvincible (start off fairly vanilla and go batshit).     

Verdict - Byrne It

Genius #1 & #2
Story by Marc Bernardin & Adam Freeman
Art by Aufa Richardson
Letters by Troy Peteri

CeeJay: Genius has the potential to be unnecessarily inflammatory or… well, genius. The brainchild of Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, Genius follows an all out civil war between the recently allied gangs of Los Angeles and the completely unprepared LAPD. The series illustrates a city torn apart by civil unrest due to a crackdown on gangland activity and the police brutality that happens as a result of it. Every major street gang in LA has fallen under the command of a ruthless tactician that LAPD detective Reginald Grey is determined to bring down. He is floored – literally and figuratively when he learns that this mastermind is a prodigious, Sun Tzu-idolizing, 17-year-old girl named Destiny.

This is… timely, to say the least. Genius began as a one-shot issue during Top Cow’s “Pilot Season” event back in 2008 and has been resurrected as a mini-series for 2014. The title thrusts you into the rising gangland tensions is its hyper-real version of Los Angeles with real weight do to the turbulent, very real history that the actual LAPD has with the city’s economically disenfranchised, mostly POC (people of color) population. It’s doubly poignant, given the rise in media attention surrounding law enforcers injuring or flat out murdering unarmed POC like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this past weekend (and the riots that followed). The comic, however, does not take a side. No one character has any moral high ground, which offers an interesting perspective on the proceedings. A good chunk of the narrative is told from Destiny’s point of view but is never necessarily biased in her favor, which was nice.

The art is very reminiscent of ethno-centric animation styles from the mid-90s and early 00s (when you could still find Black people in cartoons) – think Bebe’s Kids or The Proud Family. The settings and backgrounds are pretty generic but they make way for dynamic character designs. No to characters look alike; not even background characters are doubled, which is a testament to relative newcomer Aufa Richardson. Genius is a brisk read with a lot to unpack. Issues one and two introduced you to Destiny and Grey’s world. I, for one, can’t wait to jump back in and delve a little deeper.     

Verdict - Must Read

Spread #1 & #2
Story by Justin Jordan
Art by Kyle Strahm
Letters by Crank!

CeeJay: Justin Jordan and Kyle Strahm’s Spread IS one-half Saga and one-half Last of Us. Jordan even goes so far as to address this in the author’s notes in the back of the book. This… is not a problem for me. I love Saga and I respect Last of Us as a giant leap forward for interactive storytelling within it’s medium but Spread is obviously a different animal. The title follows No, a quiet scavenger moving across a frozen tundra in the aftermath of the apocalyptic epidemic known as the Spread, a parasitic virus that can devour and possess those who come in contact with it. Except No because he’s “Spread immune.”

The series is narrated by Hope, a baby No comes in contact with who’s bodily fluids can “cure” (or more precisely, kill) the Spread. The gruff survivor protecting younger female protagonist AND the baby narrating from the future thing, while not wholly original, serve as jumping off devices that help propel the narrative and provide exposition.

All that being said, this book is freaking gnarly. Not in the “radical”/”tubular” way, but in the turn your stomach way. A guy gets taken over by the Spread in issue one and his entire body becomes a monster. Like, dude’s eyeballs open up to reveal teeth and attack No. It’s wonderfully illustrated with tons of detail going into the settings and the figures. No looks a bit too much like Wolverine, in my opinion, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the designs of the villains. On looks like Rob Zombie’s version of the Six Flags guy and one is demented Aryan Jesus; it’s awesome.   

Verdict - Buy It

Nightworld #1
Story by Adam McGovern
Art by Paolo Leanori
Colors by Dominic Regan
Letters by Paolo Leanori

CeeJay: Nightworld started off pretty pretentious, what with all the existential soul and dreams mumbo, but got super engaging by the end of the first issue. This is a pretty good alternative to, say Spawn, because like the latter, it features a man in demon form trying to atone for previous decisions. Unlike Spawn, however, Nightworld’s Plenilunio wears his tragedy on his sleeve instead of his badassery.

With his lover locked in a sort of living death, Plenilunio seeks to free her and, by proxy, learn of his life prior to his current demonic state. Nightworld feeds you a lot of information at once but it’s all groundwork for the rest of the mini-series and the title’s depiction of the Devil and underworld are utterly fascinating. The demonic realm has a sort of “what if The Jetsons was set in Hell,” which contrasts with the timelessness of the earthly setting Plenilunio inhabits. That being said, this contrast isn’t stark enough to take you out of the book. Design-wise, the illustrations are very consistent.

The dialogue is very late-50s/early-60s gothic, which was annoying at first but became endearing as narrative progresses. The art has a very mid-20th-century aesthetic that harkens back to the pulp comics of yore and that put a huge smile on my face from page one onward. Nightworld is the hipster-iest comic on shelves not and it’s well worth a look.  

Verdict - Check It

Dark Horse

Mind MGMT #24
Story and Art by Matt Kindt

CeeJay: Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT continues to be one of the most fascinating books on shelves today. From the winding, slow burn storytelling to the manic, detailed interiors, MGMT is, to me, the jewel in Dark Horse’s crown as of now. Issue 24 is actually a very good jumping on point for new readers, collecting and skimming through every major event in the life of Henry Lyme.

In what is essentially the “previously on Mind MGMT” issue, Henry Lyme’s life is played out for the reader. His work with Mind Management, his romance with his handler, the fallout of his marriage and the events that sent him into hiding all make a appearance here. For longtime readers, this should provide context for Lyme’s character and for newcomers, it should serve as a narrative base to follow into subsequent story arcs.

You’ve heard me gush about the interiors before so I won’t here – but seriously guys, dat art.

Verdict - Must Read

Pariah #6
Story by Aron Warner & Philip Gelatt
Art, Colors, and Words by Brett Weldele

CeeJay: Pariah had a very good initial setup. It had a great group of protagonists with compelling motivations and the story moved along at a brisk pace. This has not been the case with the last few issues. And maybe I’m used to bombastic occurrences… y’know, occurring in the comics I frequent, but Pariah’s just gotten a bit boring.

Issue six involves the Vitros scrambling to stop a plague that’s spreading across the globe. Lila, reluctant to engage in any action directly involving Earth or interfering with plans to launch into another solar system, doesn’t care but others, namely Shelley and Marks feel differently. A team, led by Hyde, crafts a synthetic version of the virus and, from there, tries to find a cure. But will the cure work? And how will they get it to Earth in time?

Weldele’s interiors are just as moody as ever. The tones are more even and the characters have more defined designs now than they had in the initial issues. In fact, it seems that as the series goes on, the art is becoming cleaner and better realized. I just wish that I can say the same for the actual narrative, which is moving forward, but feels like filler. Albeit, occasionally character-building filler.

Verdict - Check It

Dream Thief: Escape #2
Story by Jai Nitz
Art, colors, and words by Greg Smallwood

Nevin: It’s a little hard to see where this arc of Dream Thief is going. In the original miniseries, Dream Thief basically focused on a new ghost every issue. John Lincoln would wake up with an “oh man, not again” moment, remember what happened, and cover his tracks. It was episodic, but exciting things happened in every issue. Escape is taking things substantially slower.

The ghost of John’s dad is stuck in the body of a prisoner named Ray Ray, and he needs to help his dad avenge his death. Apparently, the host and ghost will go insane if they are stuck together for too long, so John needs to get his dad out of prison quickly. The jail break narrative seems to be building the bulk of this arc, but there is a future narrative where John is with other ghost hosts (HA). While it’s cool to see other individuals that share his strange power, this part of the story doesn’t feel connected to the Escape title. It just feels like the future plot is wasting pages for more important stuff. I hope they tie together better, but right now the narrative strands feel disjointed.

Smallwood’s layouts and art continue to impress even if this issue doesn’t have much happen. The contrast between the art and the white background makes each panel pop, and the layout of the panels makes each page unique.

This issue feels comparatively weird to the rest of Dream Thief. Nothing of real significance happens until the last few pages and the different elements throughout the issue are disjointed. I really loved the first miniseries, so I’m hoping things will begin to fit together better as the story progresses.

Verdict – Byrne It

Tomb Raider #6
Story by Gail Simone
Art by Nicolás Daniel Selma
Colors by Michael Atiyeh
Words by Michael Heisler

Nevin: (This gets spoilery. Short version, this comic is bad and does nothing for the character.)

I do not understand this comic. The whole thing is a retread for no reason. We revisit the island. Sam is kidnapped. Evil cultists want to revive a crazy person. Lara has to come in and save the day. The day gets saved. Lara promises not to look back.

This comic completely unravels any character building the game did for Lara. She doesn’t act like someone who singlehandedly murdered a small island full of crazy cultists. She just flails about and kills someone every once in a while. She gives glimpses of her hardened survivor by saying threatening things, and then her friends have to show up and save her because she’s acting worthless again. The only interesting part was Danny’s connection to Lara’s dad, but the comic flushes him like a worthless turd.

Here are some questions about this issue that made no sense: Why did the cultists want Lara to revive Mathias if any guardian’s blood would do? Why were Matsu, his two daughters, and Lara all guardians? Why did revived Mathias have zappy lightning powers when he was just a crazy person with a spear in the game? Why undercut the idea of the sisters being magical monsters with a lame hypnotism plot only to introduce a magical being who can vaporize people a few pages later?

I could type until my fingers bled, but I think you get the point. The only consistently enjoyable part of this series has been Selma’s art with Atiyeh’s colors. Panels feature clean lines with simple designs and bright colors. The art is pleasant to look at and conveys strong action like when Lara likes to flail off of a cliff.

The first six issues of this comic have only hurt the character. I fear this as an ongoing comic. If the flailing, worthless Lara of this comic has to continue, can she at least do it while in a tomb? Preferably one she is raiding, like the series’ name suggests.

Verdict – Avoid It

Brain Boy: The Men from G.E.S.T.A.L.T. #4
Story by Fred Van Lente
Art by Freddie Williams II
Colors by Jeremy Colwell
Words by Nate Piekos

Nevin: Issue #4 begins moments after the previous. Arkhady has been shot; Faraday is possessed, and Brain Boy is in a very bad place. With an ally pointing a gun to his head, he has to figure out how to stop her without killing her and get whatever information Arkhady had. Following a telekinetic skirmish, the issue finally loops back to the White House cliffhanger we’ve had since issue #1. Everything ties up nicely and lands some big reveals that shake Brain Boy to his core.

Williams’ art really shines best when he draws action scenes full of powers. The power effects are full of energy, and the astral projection battles make battles of the mind far more exciting. Colwell’s colors are once again gorgeous during said astral projection battles. The light purples and blues bring life to the battles of an otherworldly plane.

This issue will have major effects on Brain Boy moving forward. It does everything a series arc should. It ties up conflicts created in the first issue while landing bigger reveals that leave fans wanting more. It’ll be interesting to see how Brain Boy will deal with the aftermath in the next series.

Verdict – Must Read

Star Wars: Darth Maul – Son of Dathomir #4
Story by Jeremy Barlow
Art by Juan Frigeri
Colors by Wes Dzioba
Words by Michael Heisler

Nevin: It appears Darth Maul’s plan during this arc has been to revive Mother Talzin while seeking revenge against Sidious. It’s been nice seeing Dooku and Grievous knocked around by Maul as he proceeds to throw a wrench into everyone’s plans, but Sidious isn’t one to sit idly by while someone disrupts his soon to be empire. This arc has steadily built to the feverish confrontation that happens in this book between major villains of The Clone Wars. Mother Talzin, Maul, Dooku, Greivous, and Sidious all meet for one major clash.

Frigeri’s art stands strong in this last issue with great emotions from characters and electrifying action. The expressions of Maul from sneering to shocked are wonderful, and hooded Sidious has one panel in particular that made my skin crawl. Dzioba also has some brilliant color work during a force power clash near the end. The art and colors for the particle effects create a strong sense of the strength of the powers on display.

Sadly, the issue ended much how one would expect with little surprise and the conflict is much shorter than expected. It’s hard to create surprise in a self-contained story like this when we know what the outcome has to be. The story here is still enjoyable for The Clone Wars and Darth Maul fans, but don’t expect big surprises from this last issue.

Verdict – Buy It

Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland #3
Story by Kim Newman and Maura McHugh
Art by Tyler Crook
Colors by Dave Stewart
Words by Clem Robbins

Nevin: While this issue doesn’t have the doozy of watching someone explode into bloody eels, it offers up more of that slow detective burn as Sir Edward continues his investigation into Arthur Neal’s death. Appearances in Hallam are continuing to fray at the edges. As much as the people try to put on good appearances, Sir Edward knows that something is terribly wrong here. The bulk of this issue shows disarray in the Poole household. Most of it boils down to a duel of words as Sir Edward tries to gather more information on Hallam and the ominous area of Unland and to Sir Edward meeting an apparently cursed Sir Horace.

The art continues with a very gothic vibe. Characters are expressive in conversations, especially between Sir Edward and Mrs. Poole, even though the art style used is minimalistic. The muted colors by Stewart lend themselves well to the ominous pressure building in the story. Many panels feature darkness bleeding in from the edges that give an intense quality to even the most simple of conversations.

Witchfinder has an unexplainable mesmerizing quality to it. Even when the characters are arguing for a whole issue, it manages to hold my attention. The feeling that each conversation has a purpose of building unrest and unraveling the mystery is something that will keep readers glued to the page.

Verdict – Must Read

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