Hello from Antarctica, also known as Oklahoma. Damn, it’s been cold. But hey, it’s, like 60 degrees now. In January. But no, that climate change stuff’s just hokum! The nice thing about being a comics nerd, though: weather be damned, I’m still plowing out there to purchase my wares! With that in mind, 2014’s still off to a great start, with a whole slew of new books on the way, including one that debuted this week. But I’m starting with one of last year’s breakout books instead. Enjoy!
1. FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics #7 (DC/Vertigo, W: Simon Oliver, A: Robbi Rodriguez). After months of me praising the covers on this book, this issue finally breaks that trend. What the hell’s going on here? What am I looking at? Okay, okay–eventually I figured it out, but I shouldn’t have had to stare so hard or for so long. Poor color choices made the cover image rather indecipherable at a glance, which is very, very bad, since the first selling point of any comic is its cover. All those dark tones run together, blending into the black background yet clashing with the bright blues of the wormhole that’s being leaped through. (Trust me, it’s a wormhole.) Just a mess, though an extremely rare misfire for cover artist Nathan Fox. Inside, however, the story shines and crackles as we get the conclusion of the origin of the team’s newest member, Rosa Reyes. She’s more than a little socially awkward, but with good reason, as we discover. The wonder of this book is all of the completely off-the-wall physics concepts writer Simon Oliver comes up with–in this case, involving wormholes. Yet he also makes you feel for the characters involved, and doesn’t get too caught up in the weirder, bigger picture (a lesson Jonathan Hickman could learn in his Avengers titles). In just two issues, Rosa has become a fully-realized, three-dimensional character that fits perfectly with Adam and Cicero and their bizarre world. The situation she gets involved in this issue–a prison break involving a wormhole generator–is a perfect balance of physics madness and straight-up crime, with Rosa caught in the middle without her team to back her up. The resolution is flawless–heck, if it weren’t for that garish cover, this entire issue would be perfect. Jump on now before this comic get too much further into its run. Score: 9/10.
2. The Walking Dead #119 (Image, W: Robert Kirkman, A: Charlie Adlard). Never let it be said that Robert Kirkman only does things halfway. He called this story “All Out War,” and he damn well meant it–as of now, both sides have taken heavy casualties and there’s no sign of any letting up. The cracks in Ezekiel’s facade begin to show in a big way after the events in last issue, and it could impact Rick’s strategy against Negan. No time for that, though, because Negan’s bringing the fight to Rick! And so does “all-out war” itself reach Rick’s community, potentially threatening everything he’s built. The most exciting aspect of this story is Kirkman’s ability to make the reader feel very “in the now” as events are occurring. The chaos and madness of war is a frightening, frenetic, fast-paced thing–and Kirkman makes sure we know it by making us feel its presence at every turn. And in it all, the (vast) supporting cast all get little moments to shine as actual human beings: Aaron mourns the death of his boyfriend Eric, Jesus gets to philosophize about the futility of war among zombies, Michonne gets to be a bitch at the best time possible. Carl also continues to prove that he’s grown up before our very eyes in this series, in that Rick trusts him to be in charge while he’s away as much as he would any adult. Even Heath, never the most fleshed-out of supporting characters, gets a moment amid the din to show us the kind of guy he is when he’s not having to kill zombies. I mention all this to make a point: that despite everything–the zombies, the world-rebuilding, the war, the “Negan is just the Governor done differently” nonsense–this is a book about people who are just trying to survive in a world that’s gone completely insane around them, and cope with it as best they can. Robert Kirkman hasn’t forgotten that for a minute. So to all the haters out there, or to the folks who moan because Daryl Dixon isn’t a cast member in the comics–get over it. This is a consistently fantastic book that’s become the bedrock of Image’s astounding output. Score: 8/10.
3. Cataclysm: The Ultimates’ Last Stand #3 of 5 (Marvel, W: Brian Michael Bendis, A: Mark Bagley). That’s a lot of (presumably) dead X-Men on the cover. Too bad the X-Men don’t show up at all in this issue! Maybe this is symbolic, though, of how little the public at large cares for the Ultimate X-Men anymore. Are they doomed? Hell, is anyone doomed? At issue three out of five, it feels like very little has actually happened–which tends to be Bendis’ stock-in-trade. By the end of issue five, things will probably feel complete, but probably not a second before. In this issue, lunatic Reed Richards and Miles Morales are enlisted to go to the 616 Marvel U to retrieve information on Galactus, who’s busy destroying New Jersey as a means of protesting Chris Christie’s highway lane closures. What the duo discovers is extremely humbling, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for the long-term health of the Ultimate U, or at least most of the characters in it. At least this time as death is being doled out, it isn’t Jeph Loeb’s hack-ass writing it. Unfortunately, however, amid the clamor of trying to write the situation with a vast sense of urgency, Bendis misses the mark on much else. Including depth. What this story boils down to is, “Trouble! Hurry! Respond!” and very little else. Which is unfortunate, because taken at face value, it’s still an exciting read. But face value is actually worth very little when there’s nothing much else beneath the surface. Is this a fun issue? Sure. But do I wish anything more had occurred? Definitely. Score: 6/10.
4. Sex Criminals #4 (Image, W: Matt Fraction, A: Chip Zdarsky). What, you didn’t think there would be sex criminals without the sex police too, did you? Suzie and Jon find that out the “hard” way (insert erection joke here) in the midst of their daring bank robbery (for the realest of reasons: to save a library). The sex police are at first a seemingly fascistic bunch, made worse by the fact that they’re not actual police. Who are they? What puritanical reason do they have for stopping people from having sex in public and committing crimes? How are they not affected by the Quiet (or “Cumworld” if you prefer)? Fraction neatly sets these questions up, but gamely dodges them and instead focuses on Suzie and Jon’s frenzied reactions to having their time-frozen world set upon by the po-po. Being novices to the world of sex criminality, Suzie and Jon’s resistance goes about as well as you’d expect. My one real gripe with this issue is that Fraction insists on inserting more flashback sequences for Suzie, which really aren’t necessary here. They don’t slow the pace of the story up too much, but if he keeps this up, he’s going to lose momentum. Still and all, though, this book is absolutely on fire. Because at the end of the day it’s not about the raunchy jokes, the sexytime, or the general weirdness–it’s about Suzie and Jon, two people meeting each other and falling in love. What more can you ask for? Score: 8/10.
5. Fatale #19 (Image, W: Ed Brubaker, A: Sean Phillips). I’ve given up trying to figure out when Brubaker’s going to wrap this story up. When the paychecks stop rolling in, I suppose. The Seattle arc wraps up here, with highly predictable results. If you can get past that, however, this has been one of the book’s better arcs, clearly told from the heart (Bru grew up in Seattle in the ’90s) with a keen eye for the details of an underground rock scene and inter-band dynamics. And that is a great cover, and the set-up for the next arc gets us back to modern times and is quite a doozy. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel the book’s on autopilot, for all the unoriginal twists and turns the story’s taking. Jo is bad. Yes, we know. She literally drives men crazy. Yup, got that too. There are evil Lovecraftian villains who want her for their own nefarious ends. Gotcha. But Brubaker, buddy, you’ve got to give me something new to work with, okay? Like maybe an end to this story… Score: 5/10.
6. Avengers World #1 (Marvel, W: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Spencer, A: Stefano Caselli). Ah-ha! Bet you thought that, since this book spins right out of Infinity, and is called Avengers World, then perhaps it would take a larger, global or even interstellar view of the Avengers, right? That seems logical, right? Tough luck, sucker! There’s literally nothing to distinguish this book from its sister title Avengers, which is of course also written by Jonathan Hickman. It’s the exact same team of Avengers fighting different villains. In fact, in the backmatter, the editor even admits that this book exists to fill the void left by Avengers coming off its bi-weekly schedule. Wotta rip-off. As for the story, it’s actually not too bad, and is a pretty good jumping-on point for new readers. There’s not much you need to know prior to jumping aboard. It’s a solid, decently-told story involving a sea monster with an island on its head, and the Avengers–most of whom are, in what’s becoming Hickman’s default style, written interchangeably–who must stop it. The real star of this book, however, is the always-awesome Stefano Caselli’s art. As usual, his animation-cell style is crisp, clear, and drop-dead gorgeous. With him on board, even the most pedestrian tales have that much more going for them. Not that this story is OVERLY bad or even pedestrian, per se–it just feels forced and, worse, an unnecessary cash grab. Score: 6/10.
7. Wolverine #13 (Marvel, W: Paul Cornell, A: Alan Davis). Rarely has Wolverine been brought so low as Paul Cornell has taken him. Without his healing factor, Logan is a shell of his former self–unable to cope with his mortality. So naturally that’s Sabretooth’s cue to step out of the shadows and rub Logan’s nose in it that much more! There’s something about a good villain who revels in causing the hero pain that can only be brought about by someone who knows them at every level. Lex Luthor to Superman. Green Goblin to Spider-Man. Joker to Batman. And Sabretooth to Wolverine. Cornell’s saved the best of this volume for last. His Sabretooth isn’t some frenzied lunatic–he’s a sadistic monster, but a rational, calculating, even level-headed one. He knows exactly how to hurt Logan the most and it’s by his inaction that he does so. “Killable” has been a pleasure to read because not because of the tired trope wherein the hero loses his powers, but rather in the emotional depths Cornell has plumbed in Wolverine, reducing him to a state we’ve never seen before: vulnerable, and frightened of what it means to be truly human. Back in the day Larry Hama touched on these themes right after Magneto ripped Logan’s adamantium out, but not with this degree of finesse or subtlety. (Truthfully, there’s not much subtle about Hama’s style at all. Loved his Wolverine run anyway.) Unfortunately, Alan Davis isn’t quite up to the task of complementing the story in equal measure artistically. He’s gotten plain lazy in a very John Byrne-esque way, in that he’s opted to add less detail and more heavy inks to hide that fact. It’s not a mess, but it’s clear evidence that he’s past his prime. Oh well. Ryan Stegman takes over next month with the new volume, and his hyper-kinetic style couldn’t be more different. Of course, at some point Logan will get his healing factor back. But it promises to be a fun ride leading up to that inevitable conclusion. Score: 8/10.
8. Green Arrow #27 (DC, W: Jeff Lemire, A: Andrea Sorrentino). Jeff Lemire’s run on Green Arrow has been an excellent but sometimes frustrating thing. While he’s certainly injected a level of focus, intrigue, and outright fun into the book that was sorely lacking beforehand, he’s also leaned a bit too heavily on certain tired old superhero tropes for my taste. His biggest fault in this regard is currently being played out in the current arc, “The Outsiders War:” the old “everything the hero thought he knew was WRONG!!” bit. Here’s a nice bit of clunky dialogue from Shado that perfectly summarizes what I’m talking about: “You already know what I’m talking about. You’ve always known it, but you’ve buried it deep down, refused to accept the truth…” Ugh. That reads like somebody just cribbed their dialogue out of a stock “ominous phrase” textbook. And then there’s Magus, who shows up out of nowhere to reveal to our titular hero the secrets of his past, just like Stick in Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Actually, exactly like that: Magus is even a blind martial arts expert too, to boot. Don’t get me wrong, this book is still one of DC’s strongest (and that’s a very, very select few), but Lemire needs to ditch the tropes and come up with his own ideas, or ultimately, even with Andrea Sorrentino’s phenomenal art, it won’t mean squat. Fortunately, he’s playing the hell out of these cliches, but that can’t last forever. But hey, if nothing else, check out the quasi-return of old-school Green Arrow on the final page! Score: 7/10.
Keep Readin’ Those Funnybooks!