Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Graphic novel reviews A

A + X - various - very brief stories in which one avenger and one X-character team up.  With ultra-hip and self-aware radicalness, his comic promises, literally, to be cool.  No grim and gritty, no convoluted backstory, just some heroes kicking ass.  The stories range from the almost-serious to the downright silly, and it's fun enough.

  1. = Awesome - Hulk and Wolverine fight their older future selves.  Hawkeye and Gambit vie with each other to try to stop a monster and get a girl's number.  Spider-Man and Beast visit the future world of the Beast-people, where humans are reviled.  Captain America gets psychic help from Quentin Quire, and helps him retain his anarcho-punk street cred as well.  Best story: Thing and Gambit squaring off at the poker table; also Loki and Mister Sinister trading barbs.  Worst: Iron Fist and Doop's ...thing makes zero sense.  [3.5]
  2. = Amazing - The series tries a little too hard to be Nextwave ("continuity is lame!  Heroes punching baddies, that's what you want!") but without the irony.  The stories vary in quality, but I liked Beast and Wonder Man's team-up, which takes a romp through a small slice of Marvel's history and is focused more on people and friendship than super-heroics, and Captain America's pep talk to the vampire Jubilee was nice.  I also liked Dr. Strange and a trio of new X-students, including a guy with eyes all over his face. [3.5]
  3. = Outstanding - I liked Iron Man and Broo's funny story.  The Spider-Man and Psylocke team-up, where Psylocke is killed and Spider-Man is sad and then goes off to finish his grocery shopping, is just bad.  There's a multi-arc series with Captain America and Cyclops dealing with the latter's apparent murder of Charles X while they both also try to find an errant Skrull group.  I really hate the whole "hero got possessed and murdered someone viciously but they were possessed so it's all fine" thing so I'm glad there was at least a little follow up.  Superior Spider-Man and Magneto team up to find a kidnapped mutant in a story written by the singer for Say Anything, which is well written but really, really tries hard to be Nextwave.  [3.5]

Adventure Time - Ryan North

  1. Vol. 1 - Finn and his size-changing dog Jake help save the world from a lich trying to put everything in his magic bag and throw it into the sun.  They get help from the Ice King, a vampire, and some magic princesses.  This is lighthearted kid stuff; for me, it's a bit too loosey,  anything-goes silliness.  I love North's writing on Dinosaur Comics but this lacks his comic's grounding in existential and real-world reflection.  For a teen or even a young adult, this rates very high, but for me at this point in my life it's fun but about as weighty as a TV cartoon show.  [3.5]

All-New, All-Different Avengers - Mark Waid

  1. The Magnificent Seven - Falcon, Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, and Miles Morales form a new team.  Vision is acting strange because he purged out his emotions.  Pretty standard superhero stuff.  [3]
  2. Family Business - Falcon discovers who the mysterious new lady Thor is, and Nova and Ms. Marvel continue their love/hate relationship.  Decent superhero action, with a bit too much leaning on the teenspeak for me.  [3]

All-New Invaders - James Robinson

  1. Gods and Soldiers - Jim Hammond, the original Torch, is attacked by a Kree warrior, as is Bucky and Namor, to retrieve a lost machine from their memories.  With it, the Kree can control gods, so Captain America and Torch join with the original Vision to rescue Namor.  It's great action-packed nostalgia, with a few twists here and there.  Old-school heroics and corny speeches, but with a modern dark edge.  Just perfect.  [4.5]
  2. Original Sin - a Japanese hero called Radiance, grand-daughter of Golden Girl, a WWII-era hero, learns that the Invaders didn't stop the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and attacks SHIELD.  Then, Toro is taken prisoner by a power-mad German with an army of Deathloks, who wants to study Torch's AI and cybernetics.  This title continues to be a great blend of the madcap modern Marvel universe and nostalgia of the old.  [4]
  3. The Martians Are Coming - Martians, first beaten back by a group of WWI heroes in 1917, attack the modern day and the British Invaders are joined by Killraven to fight them.  Meanwhile, the rest of the group join Iron Cross and Radiance to fight neo-Nazis. The book seems to have gotten canceled, because a lot of unresolved threads are explicitly left in the air, but it ends on a note of triumph and growth (for example, Toro discovers he's an Inhuman).  Really well-done superhero comics.  [4.5]

All-New X-Men - Brian Michael Bendis

  1. Vol. 1: Yesterday's X-Men - The five original X-Men from 1965 are brought back to the present by a raidly mutating Hank McCoy, in order to talk some sense into the present-day Scott Summers who has killed Xavier and is fomenting a mutant revolution.  They aren't happy to be there. [4]
  2. Vol. 2: Here To Stay - Mystique and her gang are using the confusion to rob banks.  Kind of straightforward superheroics here.  [3.5]
  3. Vol. 3: Out of Their Depth - There's a few things left out of the paperbacks at this point and it's getting a little hard to foloow.  Why did the original five join Scott, Magneto, Emma, and their group?
  4. Vol. 4: All-Different [3.5]
  5. Vol. 5: One Down - More stuff is left out. Now some of the original five are in space?  We missed that.  I dislike the tendency toward multi-title storylines, which results in this kind of "scene missing" moments.  And... tow be continued in Uncanny X-Men, argh.  On the bright side, I really do enjoy all the various art styles that depict the different potential timelines and alternate universes.  [3.5]
Amazing Spider-Man - Van Lente, Waid, Kelly
  • The Gauntlet: Electro & Sandman - A fun deep dive into the decades of Spider mythology, looking into the mindsets of the bad guys. [4]
  • The Gauntlet: Rhino & Mysterio - More bad guy backstory, with a particularly sweet take on the Rhino.  Mysterio's story is also very cleverly done.  [4]

Amazing Spider-Man - Dan Slott

American Born Chinese - Gene Luen Yang [First Second]
Three intersecting, somewhat surreal fables about growing up an Asian-American amid prejudice and shame.  One concerns the Monkey King, who acquires great powers in an effort to deny what he is; one is about a Chinese-American who falls for a blonde beauty in his new school; and one is sitcom-like, featuring the loveable stereotype Chin-Kee.  Startlingly funny, confrontational, and powerful, with absolutely amazing art.  Read twice.  [5]

American Elf - James Kolchaka
1999-2012 (entire run) - Daily strips in the cartoonist's life from 1999-2005.  He plays rock, he draws poorly, he sells books and gets record contracts and book contracts and complains about "everyone wanting a fucking piece of him."  He has childish temper tantrums and yells at his beautiful, pleasant wife (this is the way he presents it).  Great opportunities are handed to him and yet he continually comes off as thankless and quite unpleasant, and his rough drawing style is off-putting.  [3]

American Vampire - Scott Snyder, Stephen King

  1. Vol. 1 - In the 1920s, a cabal of monstrously cruel European vampires slaughter and eat people for sadistic fun.  One of them is Hollywood ingenue Pearl, who is later turned into a vampire by a mysterious stranger.  Back in the 1880s Old West, that same stranger, one nasty outlaw named Skinner Sweet, is accidentally turned by that same cabal into a new kind of vampire -- an American breed, unafraid of crosses and the sun.  I stayed up late to read this in one sitting, despite being tired.  It's got thrills, gore, a touch of romance, and some suspense.  Great stuff.  [4]

Amulet - Kazu Kibuishi [Graphix]

  1. The Stone Keeper - Emily, Navin, and their mother move into a mysterious old house built by an enigmatic inventor ancestor of theirs; the house is the doorway to another dimension.  A ghastly creature kidnaps their mother and the children set about rescuing her with the help of their great-grandfather's clockwork helpers and an amulet which appears to be sentient as well as magically powerful.  Great color drawings with endlessly inventive creatures and machines; fun characters and suspenseful plot.  [4]

Ant-Man: Season One - Tom DeFalco
A movie-ready re-imagining of Henry Pym's origin.  Unmarried to Janet, with Bill Foster at his side (sequel characters all ready to go!), he battles Egghead, who takes his powers and rides a wasp.  Pretty stupid all around, but probably the blueprint for a film.  [2]

Archie - Mark Waid

  1. Volume One: The New Riverdale - Mark Waid has revitalized and updated Archie, but this is not a reimagining or gritty urban retelling.  It's remarkably true to the slapstick, teen-problem original, while streamlining some of the older stuff.  Waid provides an origin for Veronics (and a reason why she's in public school), and for why Lodge hates Archie, plus gives Archie and Betty a modern lovers' quarrel that seems to be... permanent?  I'm not really an Archie fan, but this is pretty much a perfect teen comedy comic.  [4.5]
  2. Volume Two - Reggie tries to get into Lodge's good graces in order to get closer to Veronica; he succeeds in the former but not the latter.  Meanwhile, Archie and Betty's relationship deepens as they inch toward a reconciliation, and there's a battle of the bands.  The person who takes over the art in the last two issues does not have the same clean lines and energy as the original artist, unfortunately.  [4]
  3. Volume Three - Veronica is banished to boarding school in Switzerland, where she meets the scheming Cheryl Blossom.  Of course, soon the status quo is restored and they are both back in Riverdale, where Cheryl starts scheming to take Archie from Veronica.  Not much Betty in this one, but a nice brief Dilton tale.  [4]
  4. Volume Four: Over the Edge - Archie and Veronica discover they may come from different world after all, Betty and Dilton find they may have something in common, Cheryl Blossom learns an unpleasant family secret, and Reggie schemes.  Archie and Reggie's rivalry reaches a breaking point when they agree to a drag race, only it's Betty that gets hurt.  I don't know how Waid keeps the soap opera, teen romance, and comedy aspects firing on all cylinders so consistently, but he does.  [4.5]
  5. Volume Five: The Heart of Riverdale - Everyone in town comes together for Betty.  Archie must decide between Veronica and Betty, but are his feelings for Betty just caused by guilt over the accident?  And will Betty go for Dilton?  And what's the deal with the Blossom twins' real dad?  How much damage can Reggie do now that he's got a definitive reputation as a bad buy?  [4.5]
  6. Volume Six - As Betty makes a recovery, Archie tries to prove that his feelings for her are real.  The Blossom twins get in over their head, as does Reggie, in trying to leverage the knowledge of their real dad.  It turns out he's a seriously bad guy.  Can Archie save the day?  Will Weatherbee retire?  Waid's superior run ends on a very dramatic note.  [4.5]

Archie 1941 - Mark Waid
A more somber Archie story, an experiment really, set in the year Archie was created but instead of providing timeless escape through teenage hijinks, shows what Archie in the real world would be like.  More than just a "war is hell" book, this story shows how the war depresses an entire small town, and how those who stayed fared as well as those who left.  And then there's the ones that never came back.  At first I was a bit put off by this story, but then its various plot threads wove into a kind of human tapestry.  In some ways it's only an Archie story in title, the familiar names pasted on different people, but such reinvention is in many ways the whole magic of comics.  [4]

Area 10 - Christos Gage
Black-and-white horror noir about a troubled detective recovering from a brain injury who tries to track down a killer obsessed with the "second sight" granted with trepanning.   But the cop is having visions, and everyone wonders if it's all in his head — or if he is the killer.  Nail-biting, dark, and suspenseful, with a couple of twists.  Plotted and drawn in a very cinematic fashion.  Read twice.  [4]

Arkham Asylum: Living Hell - Dan Slott
Very well done black humor; over-the-top but faithful characterizations of Bat-verse stars like Joker and Two-Face; several interesting new characters.  Sympathetic and competent good guys.  Several fun twists, but gets a bit out of hand at the end. Re-readable. [4.5]

Aster - Thom Pico

Astonishing X-Men Vols. 1-4 - Joss Whedon
The only X-Men comic ever to be good.  [5]

Astro City - Kurt Busiek 

Avengers: Acts Of Vengeance - various writers

Avengers - Brian Michael Bendis
1-5.  Standard superhero stuff.  In one volume, Wonder Man is cast as so against the idea of the Avengers that he leads a team of villains against them, which is ridiculous.  [3]

Avengers - Jason Aaron
  1. The Final Host - Loki brings a group of angry Celestials to Earth who have some to cleanse it of life.  It seems that in one million BC, Odin and a bunch of proto-heroes — panther, K'un L'un hero, phoenix force, etc — killed a Celestial who came looking for its dead friend.  So it's up to Thor, Tony, and Steve to once again start a group of Avengers and save the world.  Aaron is making the Avengers into a Justice League-like group, fighting cosmic-level threats, and he does a very nice job of it.  [3.5]
  2. World Tour - Namor declares war on all surface-dwellers in the ocean, and the Avengers try to deal with his new group of Defenders of the Depths.  Black Panther, leading the Avengers, assembles allies and agents from a variety of backgrounds, and asks Blade to join.  Meanwhile, a resurrected and apparently evil Agent Coulson puts together a rival group, the Squadron Supreme of America.  [3.5]
  3. War of the Vampires - Interspersed with stories of Odin's team from one million BC, who are all approached by Mephisto, the Avengers find themselves in the midst of an internecine war of vampire groups.  Dracula appears to turn himself in to the Russian superhero group, but may have tricks up his sleeve.  The inexperienced Ghost Rider finds his powers to be out of his control.  And Blade gets a side-kick, Boy-Thing!  Fun chaos.  [4]
  4. War of the Realms - Trolls and giants from Norse realms invade Earth, and the Avengers and the Squadron Supreme go on the counter-attack.  The SSA turns out to be a creation of Coulson's in a very literal sense, and Coulson is making deals with the devil.  She-Hulk and Ghost Rider doubt themselves and worry about losing control.  World-wide threats, scheming enemies, and an ecletic group of heroes in a "found family."  This book just keeps getting weirder and better.  [4]
  5. Challenge of the Ghost Riders - Reyes can't control his demon car so, with the help of Daimon Hellstrom, the Avengers go to Hell and help his race Johnny Blaze for the title of king of hell.  Yes.  And the Avengers Mountain, their HQ made out of the body of a dead Celestial, is possessed by Cosmic Ghost Rider.  And at one point Reyes' car is shot with zombie body parts.  And the dead Celestial's soul is possessed by Reyes' serial killer uncle.   It's like Nextwave without the satire — pure high adrenaline superhero insanity.  [4]

AVENGERS A.I. - Sam Humphries

  1. Human After All
  2. 12, 000 AD

Two books, complete.  The new nano-tech Vision, Hank Pym, and a Doom Bot along with some others fight the new AI menace, a global army of AIs led by the urbane Dimitrios.  The ethics of AI are touched on with a fairly nuanced hand for a superhero book.  It's also exciting and funny; it has a Nextwave feel to it.  [4]

Avengers Academy - Christos Gage, mostly

  1. The Complete Collection Vol. 1 [collects #1-12, some related issues and a Giant-Size #1] - Some untested and possibly dangerous young superhumans are rescued from Norman Osborn's clutches and inducted into a training camp for Avengers.  But what are the older Avengers hiding?  And can Osborn do more for them than Pym can?  The teens question themselves and their future, form bonds and romances, are arrogant, etc.  As always, Gage's writing is sharp and taut, fleshing out all the characters, villains and heroes and undecideds alike with much-needed real human emotion and motives.  He also has a superb ear for dialogue and gives each character their own voice, and is especially good writing women.  [4.5]
  2. The Complete Collection Vol. 2 [collects #13-20, plus Fear Itself: The Home Front #1-7 and some other material] - The team faces, and is bested by, the Sinister Six and the Absorbing Man.  Also, in the Fear Itself event, Speedball tries to make peace with a woman from Stamford whose son died in the explosion, while the kids face a much more powerful and possessed Absorbing Man and Titania.  Gage's writing is still impeccable, with the best part being Speedball's redemption arc.  [4.5]
Avengers: Children's Crusade - Allan Heinberg
When Wiccan's powers seem more than he can handle, he and Speed go looking for the vanished Scarlet Witch, who is hunted by both Avengers and X-Men for her murders and power-erasing.  With their team and Magneto, they find her with Dr. Doom, who obviously has plans of his own for her reality-altering powers.  This is a nice wrap-up of some very gritty "major event" in Marvel's past.  There are teen romances and moments of self-doubt, but it's all done with a clean, optimistic style that is refreshingly not dark 'n' grim.  The looming specter of big bad Dr. Doom is wrapped up a little pat, but it's a fun read.  [4]

Avengers: Endless War - Warren Ellis
A dark look at what war does to people and whether you can come back from it, as exemplified by Captain America and Wolverine.  Adds a touch of thought to the usual super-heroics.  [4.5]

Avengers Epic Collection - various

Avengers: Vision and Scarlet Witch - Steve Englehart 
The classic twelve-issue limited series that explores what it's like for a magic mutant and a synthetic man to try to built a suburban life together in New Jersey -- oh, and to have a baby.  While this comes from the era of comics in which exposition is the main character and the heroes and villains alike lounge around in full costume, scythe-hand or quiver notwithstanding, this is nevertheless a pretty darn good exploration of desires and consequences in the superhero world, for its time and publisher anyway.  It's also pretty bold, attempting to make some major changes in the Marvel universe (though as I understand it, those babies get retconned somewhere along the way).  Some of the dialogue is pretty hackneyed, especially where it concerns Vision's attempt to have a family in Wonder Man's relatives.  However, the pregnancy is handled with maturity and understanding, and there's some stabs at attacking intolerance.  The plot arc with Toad as an infatuated incel before his time is funny as well as sadly accurate.  [3.5]

Avenging Spider-Man - Zeb Wells
Vol. 1: Spider-Man teams with Red Hulk, Hawkeye, and Captain America, in funny stand-alone stories that are more about character growth and friendship than punching.  Whether sacrificing everything for J. Jonah Jameson and teaching Red Hulk to let go of violence, or letting braggart Hawkeye take a win to keep his confidence up, this Spidey is a genuinely good person as well as a fast talking, self-effacing hero.  Good stuff.  [3.5]

Awkward - Svetlana Chmakova [Yen Press]
Peppi, an artistic girl at a new school bumps into a quiet science nerd and, in a desperate fit of embarrassment, yells at him to get away from her.  Ashamed of herself, she is mortified when she finds that not only is her art club rivals with his science club, but that he is working with her and a tutor.  As she befriends the genuinely nice science nerd, the rivalry deepens and pranks get out of hand; Peppi is torn between allegiances.  An absolutely spot-on depiction of the various pressures put on a smart, shy new kid at school, told with an optimistic slant and with a truly sweet lesson at the end.  Brilliant. [5]