Aug 04 2013

Graphic Bits Reviews: Amala’s Blade #4, Batman Inc #13, Daredevil #29, DC Annual #2, Five Ghosts #5, Guardians of the Galaxy #5, Pandora #2, Sex #5, Wake #3 and What If? AvX #4

Amala's Blade #4 - Michael Dialynas

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 (31 July 2013) we bid farewell to both Amala’s Blade (Dark Horse) and Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated (DC Comics), while Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray (Image Comics) promises a new beginning. We talk about Sex #5 (Image Comics), the consistently good Daredevil #29 (Marvel) and the appearance of Angela in Guardians of the Galaxy #5 (Marvel). All that plus Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2 (DC Comics), What If? X-Men #4 (Marvel), Detective Comics Annual #2 (DC Comics) and the near perfection of Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy’s The Wake #3 (DC/Vertigo). This is Graphic Bits.

This week, we’ve also featured reviews elsewhere on the site for Batman Annual #2 (DC Comics).

Amala’s Blade #4  – Dark HorseSteve Horton (writer), Michael Dialynas (artist). Rating: ★★★★★

Amala's Blade #4 coverIt’s no secret that we’ve been in love with this series, gushing over it with praise again, and again and again. It’s titular female assassin occupies a joyfully crafted world where steampunks and pirates happily sit alongside modified cyberpunks. “Tropical” Steve Horton’s terrific sense of humour has permeated the series, yet for this final issue, Amala is stepping straight into the middle of a battle between Modifier and Purifier factions. It’s the epic action finale that the book deserved, never taking a moment’s pause and allowing the natural momentum of the series to reach its logical climax. Likewise, Dialynas gets to really let it all hang out in the art department, cutting loose on some major battle sequences that segue in and out of close-quartered tight shots of a confrontation between Amala and “Lady Strawbale”. It’s also a nice sight gag in the final pages that brings the series full circle, rewarding fans who have stuck with this from the beginning. Look for the trade collection in January 2014, buy copies for yourself and your friends, and help ensure this and other Horton/Dialynas creations have a bright future on our shelves.

Batman Incorporated #13 – DC ComicsGrant Morrison (writer), Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn (artists). Rating: ★★★★

Batman Incorporated #13 (2013)Since the beginning of Grant Morrison’s Batman run back in 2006 (beginning with the “Batman and Son” arc from Batman #655), Morrison has determinedly pursued his singular vision across  editorial changes and line-wide reboots. Although his run seems to exist in a bubble outside of the New 52, the death of Damian Wayne in Batman Incorporated #8 sent shockwaves throughout the entire Batman lineup. So it was through sheer force of will that this unique and sprawling Bat-yarn, one that attempted to marry the entire history of Batman into a single narrative, became an integral part of Batman’s story. In this final issue of his seven-year saga, Morrison appears to be sticking a giant pokey thing into the raw flesh of the current DC continuity, tying a flag to the top with a Bat-symbol that has his face in the middle of it. It’s a testament to the idea that Batman will never die, with even Jim Gordon turning a blind eye to the obvious truth of a beaten and bloodied Bruce Wayne sitting before him. Burnham pulls out all of the stops for his final issue on this run, managing to draw almost all of Morrison’s creations at some point in the issue. Even Bat-Cow gets a return engagement. If this ending is less than the sum of its parts, it certainly doesn’t fail from a lack of ambition. Grant Morrison has left an indelible mark on the Dark Knight, and superhero comics generally, and we hope there is still a place for this off-beat Bat in the New 52.

Daredevil #29 – MarvelMark Waid (writer), Javier Rodriguez, Alvaro Lopez (artists). Rating: ★★★★½

Daredevil #29 coverDaredevil and Mark Waid continue to keep us on our toes almost thirty issues into this consistently good run on the Man Without Fear. Having pulled the rug out from under Matt Murdoch (again) in the previous issue, Matt finds a system that is rotten to the core, infiltrated at every level by the Sons of the Serpent, a white supremacist hate crime group that now seems to have their fingers in every governmental pie. Taking personal affront to “his” legal system under attack, Murdoch finds more traction in the courtroom as Daredevil than he does as Murdoch when the Serpents stage a brazen daylight assassination. This amazing piece of writing reminds us that when he isn’t being Daredevil, Murdoch is both a lawyer and a blind one at that. Both come into play as potential handicaps for the hero in this unique adventure, and a timely reminder that Daredevil’s strengths and weaknesses are often the same thing. Series colourist Rodriguez almost makes us forget about that lovely Chris Samnee fellow, although their styles blend together to create a consistently brilliant and layered art experience for the reader. While there may be slight echoes of a certain “Court of Owls” story from the Distinguished Competition,  the parallels between the two are only that they are the finest examples of mainstream superhero storytelling of this century. So far.

Detective Comics Annual #2 DC ComicsJohn Layman and Joshua Williamson (writers), Scott Eaton, Jaime Mendoza, Szymon Kudranski (artists). Rating: ★★½

Detective Comics Annual #2 coverWriters John Layman and Joshua Williamson introduce the chameleon-like character of Jane Doe into the New 52, a figure who first appeared in the 2003 Dan Slott mini-series Arkham Asylum: Living Hell. Here a trio of interconnected stories that link Batman, Detective Harvey Bullock and Jane Doe together begin with Batman’s failure to apprehend a person with no discernible identity of her own. For a book called Detective Comics, the Dark Knight does very little sleuthing on his way to finding the perp, as single page of investigation leads to the big break. Of more interest is a tragic bit of pathos for Bullock, who is so desperately lonely that he let himself get sucked into a scheme. Art varies between the three stories, but Kudranski on the “Contained Multitudes” stands out with its Gothic influences and unearthly glow. It’s a shame that the best story featuring Bullock also has the art least appropriate to the dramatic story it depicts. A set up for future adventures, but less than essential. Richard also reviewed this in detail over at Newsarama.

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #5  – Image ComicsFrank J. Barbiere (writer), Chris Mooneyham, Lauren Affe (artists). Rating: ★★★★½

Five Ghosts #5 coverAnother title we’ve been gushing about officially reaches the end of its run, although is coupled with the pleasing news that it will become an ongoing series starting from October. The original pacing brings a number of story elements to a close here, revealing some details about the tragic accident that led Fabian Gray to be inhabited with the ghosts of five literary figures. Yet while this is the high pulp ending that this retro adventure deserves, it also sets up a number of elements for future stories.  Along with Barbiere’s pitch-perfect period story, Chris Mooneyham and Lauren Affe’s art is one of the reasons that this book has been heightened above the pulp fiction that it recalls. The art style is not one of necessarily fine lines or details, but it is a marvellous blend of shade and colour that enhances the supernatural feel that Barbiere is striving for. Our advice is to either go out right now and pick up all five issues if you haven’t done so already or pick up the trade collection in September. Either way, you’ll be wanting to get onboard for the ongoing series, as this could handily rival Fatale for Image’s top book with a retro charm.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 – MarvelBrian Michael Bendis (writer), Sara Pichelli, Justin Ponsor (artists). Rating: ★★★★

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 (Marvel) - Artist: Milo ManaraReaders only need to go as far as the opening double splash pages before being (re)introduced to the overhyped presence of Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane’s Angela character. For a series that has struggled to find its own identity in this first story arc, with Brian Michael Bendis once again choosing to abandon the groundwork laid by the all-too-short previous series, the addition of a character from another publisher is just odd. However, this issue does manage to find its feet a little more, bringing back some much needed humour in a sparkling two-hander that sees Tony Stark taken down a peg or two by Rocket Raccoon. The wibbly-wobbly timey rifts now form the basis for this ongoing, a setup that actually launched the DnA run, and at least the series now has a sense of forward momentum. Piccheli’s art is spot-on, especially on a subtle snarl from Gamora or her beautifully choreographed fight with Angela. The latter might be purely perfunctory, and fitted in as gracefully as an elephant in a tutu, but Guardians now feels as though it is taking its place as the rightful centre of the Marvel Cosmic Universe.

Sex #5 – Image ComicsJoe Casey (wrtier), Piotr Kowalski (artist). Rating: ★★★½

Sex #5 cover (Image Comics)The fifth issue of Sex doesn’t tease long before it literally dives mouth first at its titular motif, although former costumed hero Simon Cooke seems less than compos mentis at the moment. For the first time since the beginning of this still fascinating series, Joe Casey encounters some difficulties in balancing the increasingly fascinating exposure of the underbelly of Saturn City with the desire to push the last taboo in serialised comic books. That same emotional distance that has existed between the subject and the reader for the last few issues is keenly felt here, and perhaps the easily dismissed act of graphic fellatio in the first few pages is an attempt at deepening this sense. Even the voyeur (in this case, us) can grow desensitised to the graphic acts. The real question remains: can we stop watching? Making that all the easier is the gorgeous artwork from Kowalski, who ensures that the reader inhabits the sticky work of Saturn City. Sex is a pornographic soap opera, moving along an inch at a time and only teasing us with something bigger to come. Perhaps when it is finally all in place, we’ll be able to see if these few extra inches make all the difference.

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2DC Comics, Ray Fawkes (writer), Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes (artists). Rating: ★★★

Trinity of Sin: Pandora #2While not part of the main “Trinity of Sin” story arc that rages through the Justice League books, it is this week’s tie-in. It’s also difficult to ignore as Pandora is essentially the cause of this contemporary mess. Yet this issue is not concerned with that battle much at all, save for her meeting with Superman being the catalyst for a wannabe Scully and Mulder team from A.R.G.U.S. to go pointlessly pursuing Pandora. Of most interest to readers will be the re-introduction of Vandal Savage and his Secret Society, namely Giganta and Signalman, who seems to have the power of being overly descriptive about his actions. Daniel Sampere gets to shine in at least one impressive action piece between Pandora and Giganta, along with redesigning the Society for the New 52. The storyline and characters seem purely perfunctory, neither revealing much about Pandora or linking her strongly to the “Trinity War” arc. It’s not a hugely comfortable mix of crime scene investigation and the supernatural, and we continue to wonder if this weak formula will be enough to sustain the book for more than a handful of issues. Richard also reviewed this in detail over at Newsarama.

The Wake #3DC/Vertigo, Scott Snyder (writer), Sean Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth (artists). Rating: ★★★★½

The Wake #3 coverSnyder and Murphy’s creator-owned triumph will undoubtedly read best when presented in its 10-part entirety sometime next year, yet with single issues as strong as these, it is almost impossible not to keep putting it on the top of the ‘to read’ pile every month. When the first issue came out a few months ago, we were rather quick to rush to praise it, but The Wake truly is as close to perfection as we’ve seen in a while, even in a year when so many terrific debuts have already hit the shelves. The pacing of the books is as tightly packed as the claustrophobic setting it inhabits, and this issue is a prime example of how to release exposition without slowing down the pace of a thriller that recalls John Carpenter’s The Thing as much as any thing in comic books. Case in point is the skillful way in which Snyder slides back and forth between what the creature is making Archer see, and the tragic past she is being forced to recall. The art is phenomenally good, taking Murphy’s distinctive figures and environments and coupling him with the dream team of Matt Hollingsworth on colours. Just as tightly detailed as the script, the reveal on the final page is ominous, giving us just enough detail to keep us on the edge of our seats for the next month. If you aren’t already reading The Wake, then you need to pull your head out of the water and get thee to a comic bookery!

What If? X-Men #4 – MarvelJimmy Palmiotti (writer), Jorge Molina, Gerardo Sandoval (artists). Rating: ★★★½

What If? AvX #4With Avengers Vs X-Men distilled down to its barest of essentials, Jimmy Palmiotti brings this “What If”  to a satisfying conclusion, complete with the body count that has come to be expected of these alternate timeline stories. The Phoenix Force has found its intended host, but don’t count on it staying there as chaos ensues. The more compressed format of this mini-series means that occasionally things seem rushed or happenstance in this issue, the arrival and departure of certain characters for example, or a final moment with Wolverine is somewhat of a head-scratcher. Yet it is closer in spirit to both the Avengers and X-Men franchises than the original run, and fun: a rarity in an ‘event’ these days. Molina and Sandoval bring some solid art this time out as well, including the rather fun design of Magneto as Phoenix. If the “What If” series is to continue, perhaps they should try Age of Ultron next, posing the meaningful question: “What If…Age of Ultron wasn’t a meandering and misguided pile of crap?” It’s something the people demand to know.

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