Thursday, 10 April 2014

Short reviews - 11 March, 2014

Welcome once again to Some Stuff I Got Recently And Feel Like Talking About, or as I like to call it, SSIGRAFLTA. Just like last time, this is going to be a quick rundown of some comics I picked up recently, what they're like, and whether or not I think that you should get them. The last time I did this it was pretty much the Image party, which isn't entirely surprising what with Image putting out some of the most unique and appealing books on the market right now, but I'm still going to cast the net a little wider this time. I'm also going to talk about a few less books this time around and go into each of them at greater length, partly because I'm still finding my "blogger voice" and mostly because this is my site and you can't actually stop me.

BLACK WIDOW #5 - Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto, Marvel

First up, if you're one of the many people who walked out of The Avengers or Captain America: Winter Soldier wishing for a Black Widow movie, you really should be picking up this series. Why? Well, two reasons. Firstly, if it's a success it'll demonstrate interest in the character and make a big screen solo outing more of a possibility. Secondly, THIS IS BASICALLY THE THING YOU'RE ASKING FOR, only on paper instead of celluloid and coming out every month instead of once every four to five years.

Seriously, of all the characters in those films, Black Widow is the one whose comic has taken the most direct influence from the movie. That's mostly down to the the fact that Natasha Romanov has been pretty inconsistently characterised over the years, from the comedy Russian accent of her Hawkeye appearance to the untrustworthy seductress bitch that Mark Millar made her / every woman he's ever written. This series ditches most of the character's backstory and baggage, leaving us with a enigmatic but ultimately honourable ninja/assassin type with a Dark Mysterious Past, one who can function in the intelligence and espionage community when she has to but is much happier getting her hands dirty in the blackest of black ops. She's smart, bold and tough, though far from infallible - this issue in particular ends with her finding herself in very big trouble as a result of her lack of caution. That's something that we can all relate to, though in my case it's usually more a case of overfilling my Slurpee cup rather than breaking into a top secret facility without adequate backup.

The other major influence here is Fraction and Aja's Hawkeye, and that makes a lot of sense, both because of the connection between the two characters as established in the movie and the ridiculous amount of success that that book has had in promoting a minor character to the top tier of popularity. Black Widow isn't quite as good as Hawkeye, though that's not saying much since Hawkeye is consistently among the best on the stands. It definitely has the same sort of tone, though, placing the character into a mostly-self-contained setting that looks a little more like the real world than your average Iron Man or X-Men outing.

That's a lot of waffle, I know. What you really want to know is - is it good? For the most part, yes. The art is very cool, a sort of slightly airbrushed pen and ink combination that looks beautiful in conversation scenes and dynamic in movement and combat. There's a lot of the latter in this issue, with Natasha getting into an all-out beatdown with a massive Russian assassin on an airport runway with a downed 747 spiraling towards them. It's good stuff, and even when the plotting falls into superspy tropes it's all handled with wit and aplomb. Nathan Edmonson gives the character a very clear voice, giving her a great mix of sardonicism and sadness, and Phil Noto draws her with just the right combination of European elegance and scrappy charm. I'm definitely going to keep picking this up into the forseeable future, and if you want more Black Widow in your life then you should too.

LUMBERJANES #1 of 8 - Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke A. Allen, Boom Studios

You've probably already heard a lot of the buzz surrounding Lumberjanes by now - it's easily one of the most highly anticipated indie comics of recent years, coming as it does from the enormously popular and incredibly talented Noelle Stevenson. If you don't know the basics, they are as follows - five badass girls in a log cabin, fighting monsters with the power of punk rock friendship - TO THE MAX. There's more, but that's everything that you really need to know going in, and if it doesn't hook you then I can't imagine what would.

This issue leaps straight into the action, with the girls getting into a brawl with a pack of evil three eyed foxes in the very first scene, which leads into a creepy prophecy which I suspect will drive the rest of the story. The rest of the issue is spent detailing their world and individual personalities, and it's actually quite impressive how quickly the five leads are sketched in and differentiated from one another. A lot of number one issues spend too much time setting things up and not enough time getting to the meat of the story, and the honest truth is that most writers just don't have time for that in the space of twenty-odd pages. This is a book that messes around as little as its characters, which is to say, not at all.

In this post-Buffy world, there have been plenty of attempts to capture that sassy-girl-fights-monsters feel, most of which have ranged from the creepy to the naff, but I really do feel like Lumberjanes nails it. The monsters are excellently strange (three eyed foxes, man), the girls are witty, engaging and immediately likeable the script pops ("what the Joan Jett are you doing!?") and the art is cartoony, expressive and utterly joyous. Pretty much everything else that I read this month was drawn in a strictly realistic style, so it made a great change to get my hands and eyeballs on something where the art was so unabashadly cartoonish and fun. The bottom line is this: it doesn't matter who you are or what your particular tastes are, just ignore the hype and buy this comic. You'll thank me later.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #1 - Fred Van Lente and Cory Smith, Dynamite

I made the joke on Twitter a while ago that the best thing about Magnus, Robot Fighter starting up again was that it meant that there was a comic called Magnus, Robot Fighter in the world again, and while that sounds like damning this series with faint praise, I stand by it. It's a heck of a title, and so far, this is shaping up to be a fun enough book to earn it.

Magnus has a bit of history on him, first appearing as a Gold Key character all the way back in 1963, and then again as part of the Valiant lineup in the nineties. He's been pretty unchanged throughout, since the premise "wears red tunic and karate chops robots" is pretty damn timeless. The latest version, this time from Dynamite, skips the macho skirt and keeps the robot beheading, which is disappointing to me but will almost definitely be good for sales. Dynamite have also managed to snag the rights for his old mate Turok, Dinosaur Hunter, so there's great potential for a Guys Whose Name Is What They Do crossover in the near future.

Anyway, the first issue gets things off to a pretty great start. The art is pretty solid, and Cory Smith has a great flair for drawing hyperdetailed robots and futuristic cityscapes, something the back half of the issue gives him plenty of chance to do. The story goes some way towards establishing a new status quo for the character that has a good combination of the modern and the classic, though it spends quite a bit longer than I would have liked on prologue before the story proper kicks off. I won't give too much away, but suffice to say if you gave this issue to someone in a decade they would definitely roll their eyes and say "gee, I guess those Matrix films were pretty popular back then, huh?"

Fred Van Lente has a lot of pedigree as a writer - I'm particularly enthusiastic about his Action Philosophers! -  and he has a great knack for combining action with comedy, something that's very much on display here. There are several funny gags to go along with the robot punching action, including Magnus being subjected to a Captcha by a robot to test if he's human or robot, and restrictive Laws of Humanity that seem to correspond with the classic Laws of Robotics. At the end of the day, this is a well made comic about a man who does karate to robots, or at least the setup for one, and if that's up your alley then you should check it out.

DETECTIVE COMICS #30 - Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul, DC Comics

For a while, life was simple. The New 52 freed me from the awful burden of having to buy so many DC books every month by the simple measure of making most of them terrible, and I was left to do whatever I wanted with my free time and bank balance. With the number of readable Batman books stripped down to one (1), I could happily read along with Snyder's Bat-ventures and not have to worry about anything else. Now, DC have had the temerity to pull the hackish Tony Daniel away from the reigns of Detective, put a fresh, interesting team on the book and kick it off in a whole new direction, thus FORCING me to start picking it up again. What a pack of assholes.

This comic does a few things that I don't care for a lot that I do. The first three pages are basically nothing but people saying that they're getting fresh starts, or whole new beginnings, or that a new day is dawning, and yes, I get it, we're starting afresh here, jeez. Something I love, though? The cover is YELLOW AND PINK. This is a Batman book, and the background of the cover is bright, solid yellow. It's bold, it's attention getting and its fun. The story has Batman chasing down a motorcycle gang (awesome) and then doing a business deal (eh) at the Gotham X-Games (AWESOME), and while it all feels like setup for later events, the layout and delivery are all really interesting and fun to read. I also like the brief look at the good work that Batman does for Gotham out of the cowl as well as under it, though the first issue of a new run seems like a strange place to put such a focus on it.

Francis Manapul is an artist that I have a lot of respect for, and he does a really great job of combining his own slightly painterly style with the stodgy realism demanded by the DC House Style. He does great work with messy, complex images, and a sequence in which Batman tracks a pack of bikers over Gotham rooftops is perfectly suited to his talents, as are spunky teen girls doing dirtbike tricks. Batman's costume is the gross grey-with-piping thing that he's been kicking around in for a while, but that's probably contractually mandated, so while it makes me curl my lip I won't hold it against this book in particular. The rest of the story, though, is bright and appealing in a way that Batman stories rarely are. As someone who very much wants to be reading the original Batman series without rolling his eyes every five minutes, I have to say that this issue makes me optimistic. Dare we dream that DC might actually rid itself of the fixation with childishly serious antiheroes and make some more superhero books which!?


  1. LOVE Phil Noto's art work so will be grabbing Black Widow. Have you seen his online gallery? You probably have, but it is great!

    Will def pick up Lumberjanes, never heard of it before, sounds terrific.

    1. Somehow missed this comment at the time, but no I haven't seen the gallery! Thanks for the link, I love his stuff.