Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Our weekly comic book reviews are back! Each week we try to shed on some light on some of the great things coming out from Image and Dark Horse. This week we have some catch up reviews and current ones like Genius, Pariah, God Hates Astronauts, Concrete Park, POP, and much more. So hit that jump for some comic book goodness!
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.
Genius (Issue #3, #4 and #5)
Written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman
Art by Aufa Richardson
Words by Troy Peteri
CeeJay: That was so disappointing. Genius had a fantastic thematic start but it all lead to the most frustrating cliffhanger/non-ending that I’ve read since the end of freaking Catching Fire. Previously, we met Destiny Ajaye, the 17-year-old militaristic wunderkind who dared to wage war on the LAPD. With massive amounts of casualties on both sides, Destiny’s troops celebrate a ceasefire. Unbeknownst to them, the local government headed by the mayor elects to call in the National Guard to deal with the impoverished insurgents.
The last three issues of Genius are chockfull of wasted potential. Destiny’s motivation gets less and less clear as the narrative progressives and it has almost nothing to say outside “What would happen if a young girl led a militarized gangland revolution?” And that’s not even the worst part. We’re continuously introduced to inconsequential character after inconsequential character and the narrative just keeps adding elements that never go anywhere.
The interiors are about the same. Varied, detailed character designs and with loose, rough interiors to highlight the dynamic players. Genius had so much promise and it just squandered it by taking a very interesting and timely premise and loading it with purposeless violence.
Verdict - Byrne It
The Fade Out (Issue #1)
Story by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser
CeeJay: If there’s one thing I can never get enough of, it’s film noir. Old school hard-boiled detective stories will always have a place in my heart and when something can take that and turn it on its head or give it a new spin – I’m there. That’s just one of the reasons that I couldn’t put Ed Brubaker’s “The Fade Out” down. Set against the backdrop of the shady world of 1940s Hollywood, “Fade Out” follows screenwriter Charlie Parish, who wakes up, hungover, to find a young starlet strangled to death.
Already hooked? I sure as hell was. The rest of the book lets the reader dip their respective toes in the world of Hollywood cover-ups and the not-so-innocent strings that big-wig power players were able to play in the age of “Casablanca.” Everything from the narration to the colors used is reminiscent of great film noir tropes. Each character is introduced like they would be if they were starring in a mid-40s mystery film and they all make effective impressions upon the reader. Even the supporting players are easily recognizable 40s/50s Hollywood archetypes and as a lover of classic mystery film, there was a lot for me to chew on in the narrative and the visuals.
Sean Phillips masterfully captures that film noir style and blends it with a hyper-dramatic real world sensibility. The colors are muted, which is to be expected. There are a lot of differing shades of grey at work, so when brighter colors like reds are used, they really pop off the page. The character designs fit well with the thematic aesthetic; movie stars, bodyguards and even secretaries look like they jumped right out of “The Maltese Falcon.” “Fade Out” was a great read and I can’t wait to follow Parish down this rabbit hole of a murder mystery.
Verdict - Must Read
Wayward (Issues #1)
Story by Jim Zub
Art by Steve Cummings
Colors by John Rauch and Jim Zub
Letters by Marshall Dillon
CeeJay: Jim Zub’s “Wayward” is an interesting beast. I liked it and it was a brisk read but I feel like I know where it’s going and I see myself getting bored with it pretty reasons. But check this out – there’s a ton of reasons to love it. The book’s main protagonist is a walking East meets West metaphor. Rori, a half-Irish-half-Japanese teenager, moves in with her mother after a failed attempt at living with her father. While taking in her new surroundings, Rori is accosted by turtle demons and saved by a mysterious cat-girl who loves strawberry milk.
That is the single most otaku sentence I have ever written. But seriously, how much more Westernized Japan can you get? It never annoyed me or anything but I was amazed at how unsurprised I was by this book. The dynamic between Rori and her mother isn’t explored in depth, cat-girl Ayane Batmans the hell out of there almost as quickly as she pops in – nothing is concrete. That’s the books biggest flaw; everything is in flux. We don’t even get a clear picture of Rori outside of her parents’ divorce.
Story aside, the interiors are lush and bright. The lines are defined and everything has so much detail in every page. Even characters in the background have definition in their faces. It all seems like it could go somewhere interesting and all the pieces are there. I’m willing to give it one or two more issues to see where it leads.
Verdict - Buy It
God Hates Astronauts Issue #1
Story and Art by Ryan Brown
Colors by Jordan Boyd
Letters by Chris Crank and Ryan Brown
CeeJay: But why? Everything in Ryan Brown’s “God Hates Astronauts” is to comics what “Guardians of the Galaxy” to summer blockbusters. It’s all hilariously weird and disturbingly off-kilter. It reads as if it was written by a 13 year old but that’s a lot of the fun.
The art is interesting; Brown juxtaposes stylized characters’ body designs with the more realistic nature of the animals that the characters have for heads. And um…
Well, here’s what’s in store:
· A sexual relationship between a farmer and a chicken/chicken-woman
· A planet of people with crabs fro heads ruled by humanoid tigers
· The tiger monarchs’ family name is Tiger Eating A Cheeseburger
· NASA is run by a hippo
· Even more unbelievable, NASA isn’t defunct
· NASA polices the Earth with Space Bears
· There is a team of super… people that includes a man who morphed with the ghost cow companion of the deformed farmer who cuckolded him
Do with all of that what you will.
Verdict - Check It
Nightworld Issue #2
Written by Adam McGovern
Art by Paolo Leanori
Colors by Dominic Regan
Letters by Paolo Leanori
CeeJay: Adam McGovern continues his unique, macabre vision in “Nightworld”’s second installment. Previously, the demonoid hero Plenilunio sought after a mystic book to free his wife from a deathlike sleep but the book was snatched from his hands by demon assassin Helena and her pet dragon Lotus. Now Plenilunio must take on Hotspot, the speedy son of his hellish former employer, and find the Soul Key, which may be the only way to free his beloved, ghost zombie of a wife.
Leanori’s interiors consistently impress, harkening back to the rough, gothic appeal of the pulp magazines of but with the sleekness of Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke. The title’s best quality is how iconoclastic all of its individual parts are. The central mythology obvious takes inspiration from Judeo-Christian depictions of Hell but throws an art deco feel over it. I really dug how late-60s/early 70s chic Hell was. Design aside, “Nightworld” is quite possibly the most out there miniseries I’ve read all year and I’m looking forward to having it in my stack come October.
Verdict - Buy It
Pariah (Issue #7)
Written by Aron Warner Philip Gelatt
Art, Colors & Words by Brett Weldele
CeeJay: Now that’s what I’m talking about. “Pariah” #7 is quite possibly the most compelling issue of the book so far. Everything’s moving at a cheetah’s pace and the stakes are rising exponentially. As Maudsley and Hyde try to put a stop to the plague on Earth, Lila enlist a genius organizer to categorize Vitro projects and judge how well they’re going and how applicable they are to the upcoming journey into the great beyond.
There were a lot of great character moments, especially from Maudsley. The antithetical calculated recklessness of his plan to infiltrate Marinus and his complete disregard for the agendas of those around him (on either side) make him one of the most intriguing characters in any title on shelves today. The subplot with Lila also provided the excellent introduction of Felix-y genius Laird. Sometimes, tech jargon in comics can rip you right out of the story but Laird ‘s dialogue is smart without sounding pretentious and matter of fact without being snarky.
This issue fixed a lot of what’s been wrong with the past couple of installments, namely the faster pacing and progression of the overarching plot. #7 ends with a cliffhanger that I didn’t see coming; one that throws a giant monkey wrench into the proceedings but not in a way that feels like it would stall the narrative. It’s about to get good.
Verdict - Buy It
Mind MGMT (Issue #25)
Story Art, Colors & Letters by Matt Kindt
CeeJay: With issue #24 soft-rebooting the narrative and refocusing the proceedings solely around Meru, “Mind MGMT” #25 opens with Meru trying to recollect her life up until this very moment. After escaping the Eraser’s new Mind Management facility in Hong Kong, Meru seeks out someone to trust which is becoming an increasingly hard thing to do.
No big revelations in this month’s “MGMT” but we’re in obviously for something big. Meru is now completely alone. Bill and Dusty are dead and she has no reason to trust Perrier and Lyme, the latter of whom she sees as just as bad as the Eraser. Outnumbered and armed with nothing but her own resourcefulness, Meru has to find the mysterious First Immortal.
That’s the beautiful thing about “Mind MGMT,” even the wind up/wind down/filler-y issues are still wonderful to look at and offer a little narrative meat to chew on. This month’s Mind MGMT Memo involved the Perriers writing young adult fiction that subconsciously taught the readers lethal martial arts and self-defense maneuvers so that should prove important somewhere down the line.
Verdict - Check It
POP! (Issue #1)
Story by Curt Pire
Art by Jason Copland
Colors by Pete Toms
Words by Ryan Ferrier
CeeJay: We always talk about manufactured pop stars and how corporations don’t rely on natural talent, but what if that was frighteningly true. What if a conglomerate owned a genetic farm built specifically for the conception and production of pop stars? That’s question Curt Pire’s “POP” asks and the result is actually really intriguing. “POP” follows Elle Ray, the newest product in a line of genetically modified pop commodities and her escape from her creators and eventual run in with Coop, the hopeless, suicidal owner of a hybrid comic book/record store.
This initial issue is just about perfect really. It gives you a clear look at the protagonists, their motivations and how those motivations could possibly play into coming events, the central and secondary antagonists and their individual personalities are detailed to great effect and the ending wraps the introductory character beats so that issue #2 can focus squarely on the narrative.
Copland’s art is emotive, kinetic and very careful about undermining how on the nose Pire’s script can be. “Dustin Beaver” was obviously a parody but he was different enough visually that it didn’t feel like the creators weren’t going to get sued. The panel structure and use of white space also added to how psychedelic everything seemed and I enjoyed that there was a clear distinction between “real world” settings and the more 70s-style sci-fi design that appeared in action scenes and at the “POP” farm. Great brisk read with some rough but beautiful interiors.
Verdict - Buy It
Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1
Written by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander
Art, colors, and letters by Tony Puryear
Nevin: Concrete Park immediately creates an intriguing world. In the near-future, Earth is overcrowded and full of street gangs. One such gang member named Isaac is shot by a street rival in an attack that kills his young sister. After being arrested, he is tried in a secret tribunal, and sentenced to “transportation.” He and other criminals (including Boza, the man who murdered his sister) are frozen in suspended animation and shipped to another planet where they will serve in an ice mine, and most of them will not survive. During his transportation to this distant planet, something goes wrong on his ship and it crashes into the surface of the distant planet instead of the mine destination. Only he and Boza survive the crash. As R-E-S-P-E-C-T opens, a local female gang leader named Luca finds him in the wreckage and Isaac must learn to quickly adapt to the new planet as a massive gang war is underway.
The art reminds me of a more detailed Archer. All objects and characters have thick black outlines. The colors for backgrounds usually have a muted look to them to match the desert planet making the bright clothes of the gang characters really pop. All of the characters we meet in this issue are some kind of minority and have their own distinct design. The most interesting design was the Potato King. As the name suggests, he’s a large gang leader who seems to be one of the major points of power in the massive Scare City on the desert planet. While I enjoy the designs, sometimes the character’s proportions are wonky during action scenes. They can lack depth and look strictly 2D.
Even though a prison planet isn’t the most original idea, Concrete Park captured my full attention quickly. The characters and world are interesting, and Isaac seems like a character the reader can root for in all of the gang chaos. There’s still a lot of ground to explore with this world, and I look forward to reading more.
Verdict – Check It
Grendel vs. The Shadow
Art and Story by Matt Wagner
Colors by Brennan Wagner
Letters by Michael Heisler
Nevin: Welcome to gang wars with classic comic book characters. The Shadow has been around since the early 1930s and Grendel since the 80s, so a collaboration featuring these two characters is a pretty awesome concept. The Grendel of this story is the original, Hunter Rose. After making a shady deal for an ancient burial urn, Rose recites a spell from the scroll sealed inside that teleports him back in time to the 30s. He quickly adapts, realizes the current time period is perfect for conquering, and sets about disrupting the golden age of the mafia. The Shadow lives during this time period, and he is not too happy about the presence of a new criminal. He begins his own investigations into this new threat setting up the collision of two classic characters.
With the story taking place in the 30s, New York has a much older look to the architecture. The detail put into the city scape is beautiful in panels where Grendel perches on the top of buildings. Many shots of the city invoke a very strong Batman vibe that can also be found in the way the Shadow operates. The Shadow materializes out of darkness, does his thing, and disappears back into the night. The Batman vibe I got isn’t surprising since The Shadow was a major influence on Bob Kane and Bill Finger when they created Batman. The colors used even remind me of Batman: The Animated Series with a dark color palette accented by oranges and reds to give the sense of impending violence, like when the sky is blood red during a Grendel attack. Those Grendel attacks also show that Wagner knows his way around an action scene. The moments with Grendel hopping around slicing mobsters are some of the most entertaining art in the book.
This is 51 pages of gritty mobster story with a classic vigilante and a classic criminal mastermind. There is wonderful design, action, and storytelling at work here. If you want a fun gang story chalked full of violence in 1930s New York, you should definitely pick this one up.
Verdict – Must Read
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