The Defenders #3

Black Cat vs. Diamondback, Luke Cage vs. Punisher, and Iron Fist vs. Diamondback. Defenders #3 is super-charged, Bendis and company deliver the first climax as the opening story arc for the new series picks up steam. Jessica Jones, Powerman, Iron Fist, and Daredevil join forces to keep the streets safe, ’cause the other guys are too busy flying in helicarriers or orbiting in space stations preparing for the next interdimensional multinational threat. Defenders is a team for fans of hometown heroes that ties into the marvel universe on the small screen.

Brian Bendis writer, David Marquez artist, and Justin Ponsor colors, are a great trio. I got really excited about these guys with the relaunch of Iron man. Five issues in however, Marvel pulled the rug out from under me and shifted Marquez and Ponsor to work on Civil War 2. These guys put out a really fun comic to read and Defenders #3 is a perfect example of that. Bendis gives the reader all this enjoyable dialog between the Defenders, and Marquez and Ponsor turn Frank shooting a pistol and Danny throwing a punch into John Woo/Capcom epicness. I read the comic two weeks ago, and thinking about it still brings a smile to my face. Please Marvel, let these guys tell some stories, don’t break up the band after one or two hits.

I am a fan of the heroes in the comics and on the screen and I am a fan of the creative team, so I was pretty pumped for the debut of Defenders. The first two issues were okay, but failed to grab me and set me grinning ear to ear. I was on the fence and considered dropping the series, until issue #3. The Defenders are getting to know each other, while the reader gets to know the villan, Diamondback. This issue we find out the history between Luke and Diamondback. If you jump in on this issue, it’s important to know that Diamondback is back from the dead, (like real dead, not like when you die in a Spiderman comic) and he has moved up from two-bit hood to bona fide super-threat. Unfortunately for the Defenders they get a lot of time to know each other recovering in a 24 hour urgent care for supers run by the Night Nurse, Linda Carter. She evokes images of Wonder Woman from the 70’s serial and shares the actresses name; she also probably helped Gregory Isaacs convalesce early in her career and was the muse for his smash reggae hit. These references are Mack truck obvious, but I enjoy them anyway. Kudos to you guys for creating an amusing secondary character built on pop refrences.

Brian Bendis is a monster comic writer and a great choice for this series. His good work over the last decade on several of the universe changing cross overs in Marvel, show him to be a persian rug maker, capable of weaving a colorful tapestry from the threads of the TV and comic worlds. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he was one half of the creative team that came up with Jessica Jones. David Marquez and Justin Ponsor are a powerful artistic combo primed for the hall of fame like the Bash Brothers of the late 80’s Oaklands A’s, or the chocolate and peanutbutter of a Reeses’ cup. Your first look at Defenders #3 you’ll be impressed by the art and think Marquez’s pencils are amazing. Then you’ll take a second look and realize it’s the shading that gives these characters this touch of the hyper real. A third consideration of the art, and one takes note of colors that seamlessly work page after page delivering the gritty noir entrance of the punisher that explodes into action as he pulls the trigger and Daredevil and Cage step in.

Defenders #3 is the first very good comic in this series. If the team can continue delivering books of this quality this new quartet has a long future of defending ahead of them. The cover shown for this comic is the Jim Lee X-men variant. I think that is supposed to be the Fear King in the background on the left. Neither the Fear King or the monster in the foreground have anything to do with this comic. I suggest getting the book in the standard cover if possible.

Amazing Spider-Man #28/29

True confessions of a spider fan: My love of Spider-Man begins before I even know what comics are, but until recently I think I owned maybe one Spidey comic. I really liked Spider-Man and his amazing friends on TV as a young child. That is the one with Iceman and Firestar. Years later they did another Spider animated serial that I watched a lot of, I have even checked a few episodes of Peter on XD (the first one with Power man and Nova). There is a great hard cover of Stracynski’s work, McFarlane did some of his best work with Spider-man, and I read most of Ultimate Spider-Man by Bendis. 18 Months ago when I walked into my local brick and mortar for the first time and saw Spider-Man on the shelves I was intimidated by the choices. Spider-Gwen was launching, and the other Spider girls seemed big; isn’t Gwen Stacy dead, like for a long time. Things didn’t improve for me, you have your Miles Morales, Marvel launched a new young Peter Spider-Man, there is the main title of course, the Clone Conspiracy starts, Ben Riley is back on the scene, Spider-Man has enough titles to launch his own publishing company and I am too afraid to jump in. I am locked out of the ever-expanding universe of one of my longest loved superheroes.

Things changed two months ago when I saw the cover for ASM #31 by Alex Ross, it’s hot, check it out next month. Looking deeper I saw it was written by Dan Slott and drawn by Stuart Immonen. I loved Immonen’s work on Empress, and I confused Slott with another writer that writes Warhammer space marine novels. I just wiki’d Slott’s bibliograghy which is huge, no space marines, but I do have a couple of Ren and Stimpy’s he wrote from 25 years ago. In fact Slott first penned Peter Parker as a pugilist against the late great, burnt, Powdered Toast Man in an issue of that comic. Ross’ awesome cover, Immonen’s art and the mistaken identity of Dan Slott were enough for me to stick a toe in the water and see what was swimming in the spider universe. My next trip into the comic shop I decided to see if there were any back issues available. How many of this team could I find? I was lucky to get consecutive issues from 25 to 29 by the creative trio.

Issues 28 and 29 are the omega and alpha of their respective story arcs. A lot has changed in Peter’s life since I last checked in. He is now the CEO of Parker industries a global tech company that has been supplying SHIELD with weapons since Tony Stark went AI. Spider-Man has a high-tech suit complete with voice activated web shooters, multiple warehouses of spider vehicles around the globe, and a roster of amazing friends, (just don’t call them that) that could give Batman’s cadre some competition. With all that has changed in Peter’s life, is he still the same person? Pretty much, still a wise guy, not so great with the ladies, and more problems than solutions. In the words of Big E Smalls mo’ money, mo’ problems I guess. Peter was always feeling the weight of responsibility, as he gets more resources to bear that weight seems to increase. All in all I think it is a nice progression that stays true to his core for a character that is 55 years young. The best part of course is that when the current spidey bubble pops and his sales sag you can take it all away from him, watching Parker pick himself up by the bootstraps.

ASM #28 is the blockbuster finale to a Norman Osborn villan arc, and it has everything you could want. Mockingbird and Silver Sable each come in with big saves and Sable’s new Wild Pack is included just for extra seasoning. No Sable is not dead it’s a good story, but you have to check out the previous issue to get it. Spider-Man goes mano e mano with Norman, Sable crosses swords with another pretty girl and Mockingbird saves everybody. In short everyone in Symkaria doomed and then saved in under 30 pages but, this is a shocker Norman gets away. Alex Ross does a cool gritty face off with Norman and Spider-Man for the cover.

ASM #29 begins the arc of the superior Doc Oc. Peter is doing a damage control interview for Parker Industries recent invasion of Symkaria; see it’s just like bad press in the bugle only bigger scale. Afterward he stops by the London office to check on things, and finds way more than the night staff. The new and thinner Doctor Octopus has made new friends that play rough. Doc Oc demands control of Parker Industries picking up a thread that was left at the very end of super sized issue 25. If I have one complaint of the issue, it is that Doctor Octopus plays Spider-Man like a pop song. A bit obvious.

Dan Slott is including all the quips, bum luck, potential relationships, villanous machinations I want from a Spider-man script. Issue #27 even gave me a nice surprise. I hope Slott does more with Bobbi and Peter I’m sure there is a good doomed relationship in there. Slott’s scripts are chalked full of dialog without feeling wordy. Stuart Immonen’s art is top-notch like I remembered. His work hasn’t taken me like my introduction to him on Empress did, but he draws great looking characters that feel detailed without a lot of lines. Just the right amount of them; he must use magic. Immonen is right at home in Slott’s action packed scripts. Immonen’s work really shined in issue #27 which featured a lot of cool goblin tech. Alex Ross’ covers are very good and some of them on this run make you go wow! I especially like # 26 with Silver Sable and #31 coming up.

Both ASM #28 and #29 are good comics. I will probably stick with the series as long as these guys are on it. If you are a long time fan of spidey, but not a collector, you can be confident in picking up a current issue of Amazing Spider Man and enjoying the world of the superheroic for 20 minutes.

Sacred Creatures #1

I just finished this book yesterday, and let me start by saying “Hey boy, howdy!” Sacred Creatures is well drawn, well scripted and big. Published by Image comics, Sacred Creatures is packed full of story and exactly the kind of book that makes Image the independent titan they are. Like the initial wave of titles in ’92 that challenged what you could expect in the production quality of a comic, Sacred Creatures #1 smashes your expectations of a single issue series launch.

Meet the family. All mysterious, seemingly ancient (by our standards anyway), and all very different. No relation different; but they have plans. What are they planning? And what kind of family is this anyway? Shifting to a climax of action in the next scene leaves you with more questions. The hook is set. Over the next fifty some odd pages Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Janson reel you in to the purchase of issue#2.

Josh is a young man with a lot on his plate. Finishing college, father to be, and no job, the stress is keeping him up at nights. He has potential though, his girl Julia seems great and their relationship is on solid footing. An upcoming interview for a good job could be the answer to providing for his new family. Josh is at a crossroads of life, keeping appointments and meeting his obligations in the next week will set him firmly on the path he has been working for. Fate has a different idea for Josh, his contact with mysterious members of the family push his life in a downward spiral that he is helpless to halt.

Throw in a big city detective and an exceptionally athletic priest and you have the character ingredients for a pressure cooked supernatural thriller. Raimondi and Janson deliver a well plotted script that shuffles chronological time to keep you turning pages. Their logical sequence shifts increase the impact of an exciting plot. The dialog in the script is sharp, matching the composed storytelling. Raimondi’s art is clean, detailed, and abundant. There is a lot going on in every page regardless of the frame count. At 12 years old the art of Image captivated me, 25 years later Pablo Raimondi’s illustrations provide that same excitement of quality, without spandex and superbods of course.

I think that both Raimondi and Janson are accomplished artists and writers in the world of comics. Their ability to pool those talents in a collaborative way shows in Sacred Creatures #1. Both Klaus and Pablo talk about the time they took to create their tale and how well they got to know their characters in their final notes. Taking that time is one reason why independent projects can be special, and certainly nothing about their composition feels rushed. Because of its overall quality and length Sacred Creatures #1 redefines what can be done with a first issue, earning it the volcanic rating. At five dollars you could not get a bigger value out of any other book on the shelf this month. It’s possible that you just finished a Dan Brown binge and could not possibly read another story that had even a hint of the supernatural, otherwise give Sacred Creatures a read you will not be disappointed.

Darkness Visible #4

I am always on the hunt for good new comics. That sends me regularly casting out to the smaller publishers in search of comics that have a unique premise, an older target demographic, or challenge my propensity toward superhero mags. Finding a gem is not easy to do. An editor for Topcow stated that there are over 2000 new books published each month, connoisseurs with discerning tastes can be sure that only a small percentage of those are going to have the flavors to excite your comic palette. To make decisions more difficult the available information is usually slim. You are lucky to get cover art, and a four sentence synopsis in addition to the creator credits for a prospective purchase. Against those long odds at the risk of 399 pennies I took a chance on Darkness Visible from IDW several months back. I am happy to say that it has become a favorite of mine in recent months.

I caught Darkness Visible at the beginning and enjoyed the first three issues well enough to keep it on my list. Issue #4 is the best so far. The comic opens with a suitably surreal dream sequence with a nice color effect suggestive of extreme lighting. The plot shifts in the following scene to a conversation discussing acceptance, changing social demographics, brexit, and the social impacts of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation of individuals in London. The dialog of this scene lends weight to the MR rating beyond the obvious content, blood and humans transforming into demonic monsters. Soon we’re back to nocturnal detective work in, where else, the red light district for demons. This is the meat and potatoes you’re looking for if you got hooked by the original four sentence synopsis in the catalog. Then finish the issue with a multi demon fight in the bordello; and the, which person is that demon reveal from page one of issue #1. Do that in 20 pages and it leaves me with a satisfied smile thinking I am glad I tried this book out, I should tell others about it.

Mike Carey is scripting along with Arvind Ethan David, and it was Carey’s name that helped me make the initial jump. I read a short run he did on Ultimate Fantastic Four six or seven years ago that I really liked. I don’t know how these guys break up the work load, but together they deliver a complex plot and natural dialog. They also hit a nice rhythm with verbosity giving you more to read when there is a lull in the action and keeping the frames clear for the art when things heat up.

The art is taken care of by Brendan Cahill, and the colors are the work of Joanna Lafuente. I wasn’t familiar with any previous work from either artist. So I was pleased to find their work instantly appealing. Cahill’s art is clean with a nice amount of detail. I really like the features of his faces and his depiction of human form. The book’s theme gives him plenty of opportunity for fun monstrous character designs. Lafuente’s coloring matches Cahill’s clean detailed look. I am going to guess that she is doing her coloring on the computer and that makes all the pages really crisp. Whether day or night, indoor or out, in a dream or the harsh reality of the mirror above the sink at midnight Lafuente comes up with a fitting palette for each. Together these two produce a beautiful visual story that can go toe to toe with any top produced comic.

Darkness Visible is the first title I have tried from IDW, and they are doing some good stuff. I appreciate that there are cover options with each issue. You usually get a choice of three; standard, subscription, and incentive variant. They are all based on the actual issue unlike some variants, and they are all good and different. So instead of picking the lesser of two evils, I click back and forth between images trying to decide which one will look better in person.  The book quality is also good. I can tell because the cover and the pages don’t get all wavy after I read it in my humid environment. I think they hit on a bit of magic with the title. It describes the idea of demons among us coming out from inside us, and has an oxymoronic feel that makes it stick. It has that coolness my friends and I were looking for when naming our metal band in highschool. Darkness Visible #4 is a very good comic, and it looks like the trade for the first issues will be available in a month. If a hard-boiled demon mystery sounds interesting take a walk down the ally of Darkness Visible.

Black Bolt #1

How can one man live with the consequences of controlling a force powerful enough to destroy nations? What helps you sleep when the responsibilities of an entire Peoples weighs heavy on your shoulders? Ask Blackagar Boltagon, as King of the Inhumans and potentially the most powerful non god in the Marvel U he could tell you, (bring paper and pen). At one time or another those two questions are set at the feet of all superheros who reside in the upper echelon of the power meter. None however, find the answers to those questions as restricting as Black Bolt. For everyone else, it is the exercise of their awesome power that will carry the day. Instead, Blackagar must find those answers inside a straightjacket, and that makes his story all the more valuable to those of us who can’t answer our questions with cosmic powers.

Black Bolt has had better days. Surviving the coming of Thanos, insuring the survival of the Inhumans in their war with mutants, and falling under the mental control of his brother Maximus forced him to take terrible actions. The first issue opens with Black Bolt suffering the consequences of those actions, imprisoned, with no memory, being tortured. Speaking of consequences, didn’t Black Bolt’s voice make a mad Maximus in the first place? Black Bolt begins to answer the questions that any of us would have in his situation. Unfortunately, things don’t work out so well as Blackagar begins his journey to redemption.

The best thing about Black Bolt #1 is Christian Ward’s art. Weaving his influences into a rich tapestry of popular art of the last century.  Instead of listing those influences, I will say that Ward’s work is layered, making it difficult for me to pin down his mediums. Definitely feels like lots of painting, maybe acrylics, sometimes over watercolor or digital backdrops. Certainly Ward is also using some digital effects as well, but that mechanical description feels incomplete for what he presents on the page. There is this great Tron look in the first half of the book, that puts all of these exciting colors on the page in the context of imprisonment that must be near blackout. The look crescendos on page five with a beautiful full-page panel, and the glowing blood from Black Bolt’s mouth on page two blends neon and grit like a whiskey sour. Adding further to the visual feast Ward serves up page after page with layouts like the plating of a gourmet chef. He gives the reader unique and inventive panels that add depth and excitement to the action of the plot, but never sacrifices solid vertical and horizontal story telling. Page 15 repeatedly grabs my attention with a  spatial aesthetic that borders sublime.

The second best thing about Black Bolt #1 is Saladin Ahmed’s script. Apologies to the writer, my enthusiasm for the art painted me into a corner after the last topic sentence. Ahmed seems to be using Black Bolt to ask some poignant questions. Cribbed right from the first letters page: Who is a criminal? What happens when we put people in cages? How do you tell a story? What does it mean to be a parent? Now maybe it’s the father of a new toddler struggling to be a writer in me, whom has often questioned the demographic of ever-increasing prison populations and the extremely lucrative nature of penitentiary ownership and operation; but I think these are damn good questions to ask. Perhaps the best is, why do we put ourselves in prisons, and how do we escape their walls both metaphorically and literally? Ahmed leaves this question for the introspective to ponder at the end of the issue with Black Bolt’s final dialog. So just incase you tackle that bit of philosophy before next months issue you can try to figure out what happened to his voice. Equally important to comic enjoyment Ahmed’s narrative is pretty solid and natural to read. Which is critical where we won’t expect the lead character to do much talking.

Overall I was really pleased with my decision to give Black Bolt a try. Ward’s art reminds me of great sci-fi tales from Heavy Metal mags, and Ahmed’s scripting is exciting, giving you plenty of things to think about once you put the comic down. Along with Jessica Jones this is another excellent go for the Marvel family at telling adult superhero stories. I rate this comic as very good. There is a potential for the volcanic rating here, but the creators are hamstrung by Marvel’s decision to lower the quality of their covers while keeping their cover price the same making it difficult for me to get books from my local proprietor that haven’t been damaged in shipping. Please give us better quality books Marvel, we love your stories, but your profit margin comes at the expense of your fan’s collections.

 

 

 

Batman #21

This is the first issue of Batman I have read since DC launched their rebirth line of comics. I was a fan of the Batman title during the new 52, and chose to follow Scott Snyder with All Star Batman. This issue has left me with serious doubts about my decision. Batman #21 is part one of the Button storyline that is a crossover with the Flash comic. If you didn’t catch Flash Rebirth last year, here’s the recap. Some funny stuff went on with the speed force and Wally West reappeared, leaving Barry with some serious questions about his memory since he was previously unaware that Wally ever existed. In the process of filling in Barry’s memory blanks Wally tells him “even now I feel we are being watched.” An ominous tone to the mood of their reunion to be sure. At the same time Batman is visited by a man, made of lightning. When that shocking apparition disappears the watchman button is embedded on the wall of the batcave. Batman and Flash collaborate comparing a letter that Flash has and the Button. They discover that the blood on the button exudes an unknown radiation. They agree these are troubling developments, but it’s probably best not to tell the rest of their superhero friends.

This issue has so many of the elements I want in the opening of a Batman detective story. First and foremost by the end of the issue I have all of these questions I need answered. Secondly its action packed. Batman has a lot of tools at his disposal in combat; I am the most satisfied when he brings his intelligence to bear. Batman either has this amazing forethought that allows him to pull the most obscure item from his utility belt, or the cleverness to take unexpected action in the heat of combat to turn the tables. I won’t say which but you’ll get one of those moments. Finally Tom King and Jason Fabok use the medium to slow down time. Alan Moore spends some time discussing what types of stories comics can tell best in his Writing for Comics, arguing that comics have more potential than being a storyboard for a movie or a novel with pictures. King and Fabok give you a fast paced issue while slowing time to a crawl. The whole issue takes place in, maybe five minutes. Just for good measure King gives us some graphic foreshadowing with the opener.

I don’t know how long Jason Fabok has been doing the pencils and inks for Batman, but I’m sold. I hope he does a fairly long run on the title, Batman will be in good hands. Jason has great detail and uses his inks to give you lots of shadow. His crisp inking still leaves plenty of room for color. The end result gives you a darkly detailed Dark Knight with vibrant comic colors making every page pop. Fabok’s depiction form in fight scenes is also great, getting all the skeletal stretch that make static two-dimensional drawings move and come off the page. His cover for the issue is top-notch, so good they made him draw two. The lenticular cover is so cool it even makes the back ad dope. It’s up there with the first time I used 3D glasses as a child. In short Fabook’s art is the kind of stuff that enthralled me with comics in the first place, and made their characters my teenage hero’s.

I apologize, it feels like that turned into a gush fest. What can I say Batman #21 is volcanic. It is a great jumping on point as it is the beginning of a new story arc. Thank you DC for doing the special cover, it’s what got me onboard. If I was actually talking to someone about this comic five minutes in, I am sure I would be silly and draw out the word and say Len-tic-u-lar.

Champions #7

Is that burgers and brauts I smell cooking on the grill? No it’s the Champions getting cooked in a police interrogation room for beating up a couple of homeless guys! Wait, that can’t be right. My Champions don’t beat up the homeless. Can the Champions clear their name, restore their rep, and take the fight to the Freelancers? Also would your parents be more overprotective if they were androids? Yes, no, maybe. Find out in this months issue of Marvel’s Champions.

Issue #7 is an action packed episode featuring Ms. Marvel, The Totally Awesome Hulk, Viv Vision, Manuel Morales (Spider Man), young Nova, and time travelling Cyclops. Mark Waid is producing socially conscious plots that pit the Champions against super powered villans with the real world problems of human trafficking, and gender equality in the arab world hanging in the balance. While the plots deal with some complex issues of today, the presentation is straightforward making it approachable for readers being introduced to them for the first time. The rating on the comic is teen plus, but in my opinion it is appropriate for younger or even pre-teens. Or in the case of this reviewer thirty-somethings, a fact that speaks well of the product that Ramos and Waid are putting out or poorly about my ability to discern worthwhile reading.

Humberto Ramos has a really fun drawing style that feels like a natural progression of comic art. His characters have oversized heads, hands, and feet for the size of their bodies. None of them are overly muscled unless your name is Totally Awesome Hulk or Might. If you are a fan of the Marvel animation on Disney X D you will be pleased with the familiar look and high quality. Edgar Delgado’s vibrant, and I think digital colors help give this book a lot of curb appeal.

For me Champions is what one of my friends calls a value title. I am currently hooked on Ms. Marvel’s solo title and interested in, but can’t also collect Totally Awesome Hulk and the new Spider Man. I can  however take part in some of their adventures and learn about Viv, Cyke, and Nova by collecting Champions. I really enjoy the team dynamic as well. They have lots of battlefield cooperation and just a little inter-team drama. Nothing like the soap opera feel of some of the team comics I ate up as a teen in the 90’s. (X-Men 90210) The Champions also have to deal with mercurial public opinion voiced through social media. This was something that was not a part of my teen world, but seems to hold a lot of attention for teens, adults, and presidents today.

Champions #7 is very good, and consistent with the quality of the series so far. If you are looking to check out a new super team, give the Champions a try. This issue is as good as any to get on board. You’ll miss the setup from last issue that lands the Champions on the grill, but it doesn’t really matter. The only question you have to answer is are you hungry for a Hulk Burger or an Optic Blast Braut?