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This week (31 October 2012), it’s all about the spooks and scares with new comic book day falling on Halloween. New series and one-shots Bedlam (Image Comics), Ghosts (DC/Vertigo) and Lot 13 (DC Comics) bring the scares, while its annual time for Avenging Spider-man and Action Comics. Plus A + X (Marvel) brings the 616 equivalent of Brave and the Bold, Fatale (Image Comics) continues to explore 1970s Hollywood, Mark Millar kicks less ass in Hit-Girl (Icon Comics), Doctor Who (IDW) keeps going through time and space and Grant Morrison simply keeps us Happy.
Despite Marvel’s “quirky” Q & A explanation at the start of this first issue, A + X is a pretty simple concept. Like DC’s Brave and the Bold or even Avenging Spider-man, it teams up two members of the Marvel Universe who unite over a specific task. The gimmick here is that it is building on the promo of Avengers Vs. X-Men, although it takes great pains to tell us that it’s not directly related. Here we get two short stories, the first is self-contained and by Dan Slott, seeing Captain America and Bucky make the anachronistic discovery of a X-Men slaying Sentinel in the Second World War. Their attempts to take it down are aided by the sudden appearance of the time-travelling Cable, and an unlikely partnership is born. It’s a lightweight but fun little story, and maybe a good indicator of where this series should be at. The second half pairs Hulk and, of course, Wolverine in a chapter by Jeph Loeb. It wouldn’t be a new series without Wolverine in it somewhere. In fact there are two, with old Hulk and Logan coming back from the future to destroy someone or something. It’s another fun coupling, and the running gags (Hulk likes cake) mask the twist ending that reveal a villain from the future. The ongoing enjoyment of this series is really going to depend on which characters get paired up, including next month’s wacky three-way of Iron Man, Kitty Pryde and Lockheed.
Bits Rating: ★★★½
With the news that Grant Morrison will be leaving the title shortly, this annual offers us not only a glimpse of what a Grantless Action Comics will look like but also at what some good old-fashioned Supermaning looks like. Actually, it’s two stories. The first, by Fisch, is called “Vulnerable” and is set sometime after the events of Action Comics #5. Clay Ramsay, who believes Superman was the cause of the loss of his wife and child, gets pimped out by a government program wishing to develop a failsafe for the potential “Superman problem”. It leads to a smackdown with a Kryptonite powered villain, and Luther advancing his knowledge of Supe’s weaknesses. Some of the best moments in the chapter are between Superman and Dr. John Henry “Steel” Irons, as they talk about what motivates them. The second half is “Anchiale”, a reference to the Greek goddess of heat and warmth. In a completely dialogue free story, screenwriter Landis and Sook tell the tale of an academic losing his mind through a physical transformation, and essentially acts as a super villain origin. The final page promises we will see more of this character in 2013, and from this brief introduction, it will certainly take the book to interesting places under the guidance of new writer Andy Diggle, who joins Action Comics with #18 in March. Sook’s art is also quite eye-catching, telling the story in a cinematic fashion, in keeping with Landis’s sensibilities. A solid example of what an annual should do: provide some one-off stories while teasing things to come in the monthly title.
Bits Rating: ★★★½
Avenging Spider-man spun out of Spider-man joining the Avengers, but this title is a firm reminder that Peter Parker is just an everyman with powers trying to make his way in the big city. Stricken with money woes, Parker attempts to make his way across the city without using his expensive web fluid, but meets with the ire of the New York public. As tensions mount, it becomes apparent something else is going on, as two bumbling crims stumble upon an alien device in Central Park that causes everybody around them to suddenly act on their aggressions. This leads to a series of circumstances that results in Spider-man coming face to face with Fantastic Four’s Thing, first fighting and finally kissing the big lug. Don’t ask. It’s a fun throwback to a simpler form of comic book storytelling, and that (as writer Williams reminds us in an editorial) “It’s not such a cynical world when Spider-man’s around”. The slightly-longer-than-usual story moves along at a brisk pace, and is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny at times, with Walker’s art keeping things energetic and vivid. His Thing, dealing with a group of kids who are more interested in his workman’s crack than whatever he is teaching, is a gentle giant and Spidey is once again the fragile “kid” burdened with great power and responsibility. In a year of goliath arcs and crossovers, this is just a nice one-shot for lovers of good character-driven superhero stories.
Bits Rating: ★★★★
What if the Joker was real? That’s kind of where this solid series debut from Image begins. Madder Red is a masked villain that has been terrorising the city of Bedlam for years. With a bloodlust that would make Gotham’s clown prince proud, and thousands of notches on his belt, Madder Red has even developed something of a cult following in the town. Madder Red’s seeming swan song sees the death of hundreds, mostly children, before an explosion in the police station reportedly ends his life. A decade later, he seems to be back on the streets, ‘cured’ of what ails him, with flashbacks telling us how he got there. This is a long debut, taking 48 pages to get us to where we need to be for the ongoing saga, but we suspect this patience will pay off in later months. Riley Rossmo, who impressed recently on Harvest, is given a more subdued palette but also a chance to make it darker, as well as using two distinct styles between the flashback and modern settings. This is taking the concept of the Joker to its logical extreme, if DC could cut loose and really make the character the monster that mainstream comics sometimes falter with. However, the book also follows many of the same tropes as familiar serial killer dramas, and there is a chance that this could be more Dexter than Mr. J. We’ll definitely come back next month though.
Bits Rating: ★★★½
As we patiently wait for the Christmas Special next month, Diggle and Buckingham nicely fill the void in the concluding chapter to a classic adventure in time and space. Featuring the current version of The Doctor, accompanied by the recently departed Amy and Rory, the first part last month felt more like a classic serial from the 1970s. The second chapter continues this vibe, introducing a mysterious new foe for The Doctor, albeit one that seems to know him even if the Time Lord is yet to recognise his opponent. Perhaps the only niggle with Diggle is that the second issue wraps things up incredibly quickly, although this is hardly a problem isolated to this comic. The new series of Doctor Who does occasionally suffer from not having three or four serial episodes in which to tell a story, and this comic series could have taken advantage of that format a little more. However, this is counterbalanced by a frenetic pace, one that takes advantage of the 11th Doctor’s youthful energy. Buckingham’s art is gorgeous, and is almost photorealistic, completely capturing the likeness and essence of the three main characters. We look forward to seeing more of this series, although with Diggle off to more mainstream prospects in the near future (namely, the aforementioned Action Comics), we will see Witch Doctor‘s Brandon Seifert and Tank Girl‘s Philip Bond on the title next month. Geronimo!
Bits Rating: ★★★★
We’ve been maintaining that this is one of the best debuts of the year, and very little has happened to change that notion nine issues in. Still in 1970s Hollywood, Miles and Josephine continue to search for ‘Suzy Scream’, as Miles finds himself hopelessly enveloped in Josephine’s presence. Now four issues into this arc, Brubaker never feels as though he is treading water for a minute in this story’s penultimate issue. The combination of noir and Gothic horror has always been a great combination, and this issue in particular highlights the Brubaker/Phillips team’s mastery of both. They’ve also chosen not to use the ‘interlude’ sections featuring modern-day Nicolas Lash, an interesting organic development resulting from the book’s upgrade from limited series to ongoing no doubt. The tragic tale of Suzy opens the book, followed by some more hard-boiled investigating, before giving way to a relentlessly paced issue that spills more bood per square inch than most books on the market. Yet at the same time it is a restrained book, aimed at keeping the audience off-balance enough to effectively pull the rug out from under us at an inopportune moment. We are always several paces behind the main characters, which is an impressive feat given that Miles never quite feels as though he is sure what is going on. As Josephine promises to reveal more next issue, Fatale makes the month between issues an excruciating wait.
Bits Rating: ★★★★½
It’s great to see so many one-shot anthology books on the market at the moment, and Vertigo’s Halloween release of Ghosts was one of the more curious ones. There’s some top-flight talent here, and a few names to watch, yet as with most anthologies there’s also a bit of a grab-bag of quality. Thankfully, the good outweighs the forgettable in a series of stories that all dwell on ‘ghosts’, both literal and the emotional kind. There are nine stories in total, ranging from a piece about a man haunting himself (“The Night After I Took the Data Entry Job I Was Visited By My Own Ghost”) through to a tale of a demonic bowl of chili (“A Bowl of Red”). The latter, by Neil Kleid and John McCrea, is actually one of the more delightfully batty tales, an extreme pseudo-parody that sits right inside of Vertigo’s dark comedy lines. Gilbert Hernandez’s “The Dark Lady” is another standout, flipping the script on a simple tale of childhood fascination with a “dark lady”, beautifully illustrated in clean black and white lines. Some of the others border on Twilight Zone episodes (Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire’s “Ghost For Hire”), but are nevertheless fun. Amy Reeder’s art is inspiring on the delicate “Wallflower”, a tender tearjerker by Cecil Castellucci. Less successful is Paul Pope’s “Treasure Lost”, a space-born tale of revenge and loss, which tries to cram too many of its fascinating concepts into a short space. Of course, Neil Gaiman’s The Dead Boy Detectives star in a story by Toby Litt with layouts by Mark Buckingham (Fables), and the various styles from dark to cartoony make this one of the book’s centrepieces. It will continue on in the next Vertigo anthology, whenever that may be. We just hope we don’t have to wait another year!
Bits Rating: ★★★½
When Grant Morrison is firing on all cylinders, it is an insane potpourri of weirdness. The first issue of Happy did a “great job of building a tangibly sticky world before pulling the rug out from under us”, and the second issue keeps up the pace and increases the violence if possible. Narrowly escaping having “salami slices cut from his penis”, thanks in part to the small winged blue horse only he can see, Nick Sax cuts a bloody path out of the mob hospital before using Happy Horse to win a poker game. Even though we are not much closer to rescuing Hailey at this point, and indeed Nick shows little interest in the kidnapped girl, Morrison does a great job of setting up the rules of the imaginary friend and also introduces the ultimate villain of the piece. We get a sense of what kind of man Sax might be, and Robertson’s art continues to great the sticky, sickly world that he inhabits. Morrison works best in these shorter stories, and at the halfway mark, Happy continues to be one of the best mini-series of the year.
Bits Rating: ★★★★½
By the penultimate chapter of Hit-Girl, Millar has once again begun to run into the same problems he had with Kick-Ass 2: the inability to sustain momentum over the course of a fairly straightforward tale. With Hit-Girl, the problems are compounded by knowing how this chapter of Mindy’s life is going to turn out, giving this issue in particular a sense of inevitability. While Millar and Romita Jr’s action sequences are still superb, something that they can never be criticised for, the repetition in bloodletting is getting quite tedious four issues in. Indeed, there is no real reason that this particular mini-series had to stretch out this long, and really should have been included in the original pages of Kick-Ass 2. Much of Mindy’s character development is missing here, with her once again playing a game of cat and mouse with her father. However, when trouble brews close to home, it is difficult to get too invested, as we know exactly where this ends up. We suspect this series will work best when read in conjunction with the two Kick-Ass series, and as fodder for flashback sequences in the upcoming film sequel.
Bits Rating: ★★★
The combination of horror veteran Steve Niles and artwork by Preacher cover artist Glenn Fabry are more than enough reasons to have a look at the first issue of a new mini-series from DC. It’s the sort of book that would normally debut in the Vertigo line, and the release of this ‘M-rated’ book in the main DC imprint is perhaps indicative of the main line starting to get a little experimental again after the first year of the Newish 52 has settled. The story begins in the New World in 1670, with the trial of an already dead family that have been victims of a murder-suicide, a crime under the laws of Louis XIV. Flash forward to the present day, as Ron and his family move house. Strange supernatural occurrences begin, including the appearance and disappearance of a bloody victim on the highway. Creepy, intriguing and filled with beautiful art, Lot 13 may not have the most original premise, but it is another one to watch from a month of creepy debuts.
Bits Rating: ★★★½