Don’t have time for full reviews of comics? Then check out Graphic Bits: bite sized chunks of comic book goodness designed to get behind the panels and into your hearts.
This week (3 April 2013), Andy Diggle tackles Action Comics #19 (DC Comics), at least for one issue. The Age of Ultron #4 (Marvel) continues to destroy the Marvel universe as we know it, while Detective Comics #19 marks 900 issues strong with an anthology. Jeff Lemire’s Green Arrow #19 (DC Comics) continues, then the all-star team of Andy Diggle and Jock deliver another issue of Snapshot (Image Comics).
So it begins – and ends. Following his highly publicised departure from the book, Andy Diggle’s first (and seemingly only) foray into Superman (“Hybrid – Part 1”) arrives on shelves – and it’s pretty good! Diggle’s issue is a classic Superman story, pitching Lex Luthor against the Man of Steel in an attempt to control him and bend him to his will. It even begins with a great bit of “will they, won’t they?” dialogue between Lois and Clark, playing harking back to the early days of the character, or even Richard Donner’s Superman film. Similarly, Diggle’s setting could just as easily fit within Mark Waid’s Birthright origin universe as it does within the so-called New 52, handily drawing on traditional elements in a newish setting. The dichotomy between old and new is nicely demonstrated in Tony S. Daniel’s ultra-slick modern interiors, especially the vision of Superman’s outfit literally forming underneath his open shirt. It’s an exciting story, and it is simply a shame that Diggle won’t be going any further. Daniel will finish off writing duties for this arc based on Diggle’s plots, and then the future of Action Comics is uncertain. Yet with so many books really only finding their feet after almost 2 years, and creators seemingly leaving in droves, one has to wonder what is really going on at DC. After making me believe once more that a monthly Superman book could still be worthwhile, we hope that whatever team DC has in mind for Action Comics #22 is equally exciting.
Age of Ultron #4 – Marvel, Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Bryan Hitch (artist)
We’re now 40% of the way through Marvel’s first big event for the year, and we know where it’s all leading now: The “Age of A.I.”, the launch of a new Avengers series and presumably another event. Just like Avengers vs. X-Men, some of the familiar cracks are starting to show. A series of 10 issues that already has a massive goal in place, with a climax feeling as though it is moments away…only to be held back long enough for marketing to do its thing. With the knowledge that there are still another 6 issues and several tie-ins to go, we are starting to feel uneasy. Will this wrap up at the slow and elongated manner of so many story arcs of late, or are we due for more surprise revelations like the one at the end of Age of Ultron #3. This feels infinitely epic, a word incredibly overused but undeniably apt here. Yet here “epic” can also be interchangeable with “drawn-out”, as the third straight issue of the initially compelling series of arguments between superheroes continues. Bryan Hitch still brings a gritty realism to the pages, but here he feels rushed and ill-used. There are some jaw-dropping shots of the city in ruins, but other places just feel unfinished or too close to show off his full talents. The reveal of the Savage Land is a half-page piece that fails to capture the heartbreak of finding it in tatters, making Bendis’s dialogue once again the focus of the piece. While Bendis certain gets what makes these characters tick, especially under duress, we are itching to see them cut loose on something other than each other.
Detective Comics #19 – DC Comics, John Layman, James Tynion IV (writers), Andy Clarke, Henrik Jonsson, Mikel Janin, Jason Masters (artists)
Detective Comics rather innocuously joined DC’s 900 issue club this week, although the New 52 saw to that fact only being acknowledged in the title of the lead story by Jason Layman. What we do get is a bumper-sized 80-page anniversary issue for the cover price of $7.99. DC actually provides bang for that buck, even if the staples can’t seem to hold onto the centre page in my copy. John Layman provides four separate stories not only re-introducing Man-Bat/Kirk Langstrom, but he also follows up the fallout of the “Death of the Family” saga initiated in the pages of Scott Snyder’s Batman. He continues Emperor Penguin’s quest for dominance, and sets up a future showdown between him and the classic Penguin. The only side-step is a story by Talon and Batman co-writer James Tynion IV, setting up Bane for a confrontation with the Court of Owls in the pages of Talon, making fanboys and girls around the world drool with possibilities. Artwork varies between the stories, with Andy Clarke’s more traditional edge found on the lead story, and Henrik Jonsson doing something similar with “Birdwatching”. Jason Masters and Brett Smith give a more intimate feel to the “Through a Blue Lens” story, focusing on the impact of Batman on the GCPD. It’s only on Tynion’s story that Mikel Janin’s art feels wildly inconsistent, and far too light for a Bane storyline. Yet with bonus pinup pages by various artists – including some especially gorgeous work by Alex Maleev, Francesco Francavilla and Batman Incorporated‘s Chris Burnham – this is a fitting celebration of Batman’s 900 issues as the world’s greatest detective.
During Lemire’s third issue on the battered Green Arrow title, it becomes very apparent what Lemire is doing with this now high-profile character. It’s fair to say that a number of readers require their trust to be earned back after an incredibly shaky first 16 issues, previously pushing the character to unrecognisable places and sending him into free-fall. Lemire is now picking up the pieces that remain and systematically breaking them down into their core components, working out what it is that makes the character unique and compelling. Like Matt Fraction proves on Hawkeye, the archer’s struggle is essentially the human struggle. Lemire recognises this, and speaking through the villain Komodo, taunts Ollie for trying to be something that he is not. “You and your gimmicks,” he snarls. “Don’t you know that a true archer doesn’t even need a bow or an arrow…only a target”. Andrea Sorrentino continues to push the mainstream boundaries in this action-packed issue, working with colourist Marcelo Maiolo to bring us a look and feel not seen in many other books within the Newish 50-or-so. Indeed, the use of alternate coloured panels in an archery showdown between Komodo and Green Arrow is tight and rapid fire. We can almost feel the arrows sinking into Ollie’s skin when he is hit, thanks to a clever motif that both drains and contrasts colours within a given panel. From a title than even the most devoted of Arrowites were struggling to stay loyal to, Lemire and Sorrentino have hit all the right targets to deliver a must-read book several months in a row now. We hope this partnership lasts for a long time to come.
Last but in no way least is the all-star team of Andy Diggle (there he is again!) and the mystical Jock, who is weaving all kinds of magic on the comic book pages and covers of late. At the three-quarter mark of this limited series, Diggle continues to show that his strengths still lie in his creator-owned masterpieces, and the Green Arrow: Year One team are perfectly matched to one another. In a story that uses every inch of the comic book format, it is odd to say that this also deserves a place on the big screen as well. Perhaps this is because Diggle’s story is so streamlined to the thriller format, taking all the best bits of every intriguing action story you’ve ever seen and diluting them down into four issues. Following the foot chases of last issue, we get a primarily car chase book this time around, with Jake now framed for two murders and some startling revelations coming out around the mid-issue mark. Perhaps what is most exciting is the feeling that this could actually happen to any comic book fan in Jake’s situation. His comment that he knows how to used a gun because he “saw it on TV” reveals so much about America’s gun culture, but is also an interesting bit of commentary when you consider both creators are British. Jock’s art continues to shine in this black and white style, drawing on the hidden strength of both of those “colours”. Faces are blacked out when the characters are being incognito, and his playing with the panels feel as though cars could burst through the pages at any given moment. We can’t wait for the concluding issue next month.