It’s …err, Saturday morning, sorry… and we’ve got some quick drive-by comic book thoughts for you. That’s right it’s the Pure Mood Pull List!
As always, if you’re looking for the very best in Marvel reviews, head on over to http://www.marveldisassembled.com. I’m over there talking about WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #30 and DARK AVENGERS #190. So check it out! As always, HUGE SPOILERS for all titles below.
It’s always great to see a success story like Sean Murphy’s. The guy’s one of the most technically skilled comic book artists out there, and it felt like he was just quietly focusing on his work while the comics world kept turning. Maybe his work was just a bit more stylized than the cape crowd was ready for. Then he was paired with Grant Morrison, and it feels like the mainstream comics world caught up to what he was doing. After spending the last year working on AMERICAN VAMPIRE and telling a very personal and unconventional (if a little rough around the edges) story about music and faith in PUNK ROCK JESUS, he’s reteamed with Synder for THE WAKE, and listen, it’s great. Without a doubt, it’s Synder’s best work yet, and Murphy isn’t slacking off, either (though his HELLBLAZER miniseries is still, oddly enough, my favourite thing he’s done). The character of Dr. Lee Archer is fascinating and fully realized, a real flesh and blood human being sitting on the page, and best of all, she feels like a person who’s story hasn’t been told yet. A single mother who specializes in the language of whales and dolphins, she’s approached by the DHS for help in researching a strange and ‘spooooky’ sound from beneath the depths that no scientist can quite specify, and we learn that Archer has heard this sound before, on the night she lost her husband. But the story doesn’t go where you think it will – Snyder throws us far into the future, before catapulting us back thousands and thousands of years into the past. Not a lot is revealed in this opening issue, but there’s a really fun sense of ‘just what is GOING ON here?’, and we feel as if the masters at the strings are watching in gleeful abandon as they yank us puppets around. Not a ton of comics are set in the murky depths, and it’s really interesting to see Murphy find ways to render…water in a beautiful way. A beautiful comic with an intriguing premise and a fascinating fresh character, executed by masters of the mainstream comics world…what more could you ask for?
Most of this issue is devoted to Al Pratt, a shellshocked young soldier who found himself in the middle of an atomic blast during battle, which gave him the ability to grow to colossal sizes. Over compensation tends to be at the heart of the ‘size-changing-superhero’, and Robinson characterizes Pratt in along those lines. In fight scenes, confrontations or even sessions with a therapist, he’s tough and brash and untouchable. But reading the running inner monologue of his mind, we see the constant fear he lives in. We also see the mysterious return of the Earth 2 Batman and Wonder Woman, who supposedly died saving the world from Darkseid, and we get none other than Mister Miracle and Big Barda (!!!) on the case to find out just what really happened to the original trinity. EARTH 2 is a really fun superhero comic that honestly gets better with each issue, even if each issue passing means we’re closer and closer to Robinson’s exit. But I’ll enjoy it while I can!
Clive Barker, Mark Miller
Man, it’s gotta be rough being the ‘other’ Mark Miller. No, no, the one with the ‘e’. Especially seeing as how he’s a pretty great writer, at least judging by NEXT TESTAMENT. A story about a man named Julian who could never believe in anything discovering the source of all life, NEXT TESTAMENT is all about our inability to believe without that very salvation eating away at our entirety. And by belief, I don’t mean specifically religious – as David Foster Wallace famously said, any belief will destroy you, and my insatiable appetite for comics is proof positive. When Julian’s rather spoiled and self-pitying son finds his dad missing, and his study surrounded by religious texts, he gets curious. Jang’s artwork is well suited to the story, very otherworldly, with characters that move and make expressions like aliens; I mean that in a good way. NEXT TESTAMENT seems like a fascinating story, even if the first issue is little more than a taste.
Jeff Parker, Jeff Lemire, Justin Jordan
Chris Samnee, Jeff Lemire, Riley Rossmo
If you’re a fan of reading comics that are the best thing ever, you MIGHT not want to miss this one. I’ve already read these stories in the digital edition, but I couldn’t resist owning them in print form. Parker and Samnee’s lead story is easily the best SUPERMAN story of the past five years, and Lemire took the tired and worn-out concept of kids playing superheroes and turned it into something completely touching and vulnerable. Jordan and Rossmo end things with a fun and breezy Bizarro story. One thing every story in this collection shares in common is the Superman they’re talking about – the Silver Age Superman, undeniably the greatest era for the first superhero. All three stories have a clear love for that vast and bizarre mythology, and every single one reminds us how exciting, funny and often tenderly moving and honestly raw those stories were. SUPERMAN UNCHAINED may be the marquee title with the A-list names, but this is the SUPERMAN book to read. And please get Parker off BATMAN for a second to come do more!
For me, Wagner is exploring something very interesting with this series – the Shadow promises that he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, but how did he get that knowledge? Wagner uses the Shadow’s first year to explore the damaged life of Lamont Cranston. Wagner doesn’t shy away from the similairities to Batman (in fact, The Shadow’s slow, evocative reveal in a gang-war shootout seems unmistakably influenced by the unforgettable ‘You have dined well’ of Batman’s own Year One), but at the same time, he characterizes Cranston as a much less stable person. He seems at the brink of madness for many scenes. “To SAVE a life…is nearly as crucial as TAKING one.” This eccentric logic ties Cranston to that of Margo Lane, bankrupt socialite who used her feminine charms to continue living a fast paced lifestyle, now the target of some nasty gangs. As interesting as the story and as strong as the characterizations, Wilfredo Torres is the real star of the book. Along with the juniour Wagner’s colour art, it’s a beautiful looking book. If you’re a fan at all of Ryan Ottley’s work on INVINCIBLE, you must check this comic out.
Reader response and critical reviews of this series have me baffled, as I’m finding it to be one the best Marvel books on the stands. I think a lot of the negative response comes from the books shady morality, but there’s a big difference between the juvenile posturing of a book like IDENTITY CRISIS and something like NEW AVENGERS. I think it’s possible to tell a story that grapples with the difficult moral responsibility of superheroes, that asks big and scary questions about ultimate power, without turning it into doom and gloom navel gazing. NEW AVENGERS doesn’t feel like kids toys acting as grown ups to me – it feels like the work of an artist with a strong and unique vision, an artist with not only a clear plan, but a passionate desire to show these characters as the damaged and overwhelmed men that they are. Perhaps I’m showing my own immaturity, but that is one of my constant struggles with the superhero concept – I mean, there’s no denying that this is beyond vigilance. This is men and women with the powers of Gods, voting themselves as the deciders of the planet. And when they have to destroy other worlds to save theirs…well, then what? NEW AVENGERS is, yes, relentlessly bleak. But it’s a big market – put this book down and pick up ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN or RED SHE-HULK or AVENGERS ASSEMBLE if you want superhero comics that are fun and bombastic and less morally complicated. I mean, I agree that superhero comics can be fun, and I love them when they are, but that doesn’t mean they SHOULD be fun. They should be whatever they need to be to tell the story they need to tell – their shouldn’t be any kind of limitation put on them. In a very poetic moment in this issue, the Black Swan puts it simply – the sky is blue, but it shouldn’t be. NEW AVENGERS is complicated, and yes, it’s cold and sterile and heartless – but that’s not accidental. Hickman is telling a story about resigned men who have too much responsibility, and what they’re going to possibly do with it. I’m hooked.
I’m not going to call this anything less than a perfect X-MEN comic, because that’s what it is. I’m not always the first to hop aboard the hype train, but yes, this everything you’ve heard it is, and everything you were hoping for. Brian Wood’s run on the previous X-MEN volume was one of the best X-runs in recent memory, and it’s great to see him carrying that momentum over to this NOW! relaunch. If you’ve read any of Wood’s prolific comics work, you know what to expect. The guy just does nuance, characterization and action effortlessly. He really makes reading comics a delight. Pair that with Coipel on artwork, who really took the time to get under these characters skins – there’s not always a lot of good things to be said about the rendering of women in superhero comics, but Coipel’s artwork is just beautifully realized – Rogue’s brash posturing, Rachel’s nonchalant confidence, all of the characters feel real. Which isn’t an easy feat whether your characters are male or female, but the fact that Coipel could rise to such heights in a genre normally associated with sexist titillation, it’s even more surprising. X-MEN is a great book, with a gripping threat, breathtaking action, and perfect characterization…Wood may say X-MEN doesn’t come from his soul, but it’s hard to believe. This is great comics, even outside the genre.
This was the strongest issue of VENOM in quite some time, and I’ve really been enjoying Bunn’s run. However, this issue opens with an unbearably tense confrontation between Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock in the halls of the high school where Thompson teaches gym to a host of apathetic teenagers. Eddie is appalled by Flash’s clear naivete – how long can he keep lying to himself that there’s a monster lurking inside of him? How long can he convince himself that he can live a normal life, work a normal job, have family and friends? When more of the strange monsters that have been appearing around Philidelphia invade the school, Toxin and Venom team up to (rather gruesomly) eviscerate the bloodthirsty mutated creatures, and Flash finds himself once more losing control to the symbiote. The issue closes with a grave agreement between the two – if ever Flash is to lose complete control to the Venom symbiote (and Brock promises him there’s no ‘if’ about it), Eddie will kill him. VENOM #35 is a really fascinating story about the monsters inside of us, our ignorance of them and our responsibility to keep them in check, while still acknowledging that they’re waiting, desperate and hungry, beneath the surface.
Neil Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks
Faith Erin Hicks
The newest issue of this four part miniseries, a prelude to the highly anticipated video game (which I have no interest in…I’m here for the Faith Erin Hicks) has one of the best scenes of the week. Our two main characters, young trouble making orphan girls, wander into an abandoned arcade, and together they reminisce about the characters from their favourite beat-em-ups, and the strength they found from them. One of them looks back and sees the place populated with screaming kids and she says “You have no idea how lucky you are”, just as she snaps back into reality and sees the place deserted again. A pretty wonderful scene about the narrative power of video games, or escapist art in general, and it made the AMERICAN DREAMS title that much clearer. It’s undeniable that every American dream finishes with the end of the world, and that’s what made the scene in the arcade so powerful to me. We seem so concious and understanding of the fact that we can’t have it this good forever, yet we’re so crippled with fear to do anything about it, we can only continue living the life we live, trying our best to drown out the voice in our head screaming at us that we’re leaving a horrible future for our loved ones. We really do have no idea how lucky we are, and ignorance and escapism really is our only salvation. I know I’m getting pretty crazy talking about a tie-in comic for some big studio’s huge bazillion dollar video game, but this is a good comic.
Well, that’s it for this week! If you’d like to talk about JLA, the inside of Bishop’s mind, Megaman and Sonic and the genius of Tails, or any of the other delicious comics I didn’t have time to talk about, leave a comment below!