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 (17 April 2013), the destruction of all things Marvel continues in Age of Ultron #6 (Marvel), Mark Waid punishes ol’ Hornhead a little more in Daredevil #25 (Marvel), we get more awesome in Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #2 (Image), Brian Wood’s is sporting in Mara #4 (Image) and the cosmic ballet goes on in Nova #3 (Marvel). This is Graphic Bits.
Over the halfway mark now, with only a month or so to go until Marvel releases its next event, and Age of Ultron continues to suffer from the strains of a story stretched too thin. This isn’t to say that the issue doesn’t have an impact, because it certainly ends with a wallop. Taken together with Wolverine And The X-Men #27 AU, this sees the guy with the adamantium claws travel into the past to kill Hank Pym before he has a chance to create Ultron, and ultimately doom humanity to electronic servitude. A little bit like Apple. Unexpectedly joined by Sue Storm, we get some emotional, then physical, grappling. Then there’s an ending you will either see coming a mile off, or gasp in shock and terror at. Either way, it brings a powerful end to a book where little else happens, especially when the secondary story sees a group of survivors travel to the future and fight some more robots. The absence of Bryan Hitch’s art is felt this week, with pencil duties split between Brandon Peterson (for the scenes set in the “present”) and Carlos Pacheco (for the “past”). The latter is most engaging in the splash page battle between Wolverine and a giant Hank Pym. Similarly, a shot of Ultron’s future New York City is (as Tony Stark puts it) a “technological masterpiece”, yet the human element is patchy. Characters look rushed and unfinished at times, and at odds with the softer and almost Allred-esque look of Pacheco’s past. There are certainly moments of beauty, but the inconsistency is a little bit jarring, which is a criticism that could just as easily be levelled at this series to date.
For over two years, Mark Waid’s Daredevil has consistently been one of the best books on the market. High praise considering the fine examples of comic bookery we see every week, but since the “stealth reboot” of the series in the pre-Marvel NOW! years, Waid has been building up the character of Matt Murdoch and not just his horned alter ego. Indeed, some of the issues of this run should and will be spoken of in the same reverential tones as Frank Miller or Brian Michael Bendis’s runs. Waid has consistent kept us on our toes throughout the saga of Matt Murdoch, who like his contemporary Clint Barton (Hawkeye), just can’t seem to take a break. Waid has made the stakes a little higher for the blind lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen, making his personal and costumed lives clash and sending him into a cycle of madness, where even the smallest redemption seems tainted. This issue has “penultimate” written all over it, with the promise of the current arc wrapping up next month. We are also introduced to a new villain/henchman in the form of Ikari, which is Japanese for “Fury”. Going toe to toe with DD, their fight is close quartered, brutal and one of the smartest pieces of action we’ve seen for a long time, allowing Waid to draw inspiration from the great Daredevil stories of the past. A masterclass in sequential and serial storytelling, Samnee’s art compliments Waid’s intelligent scripting perfectly, using every inch of page space to its maximum effect. Coupled with Javier Rodriguez’s calculated colouring, the trio have created an action movie that could only have possibly been born out of the panels of a comic book. Next month promises an extra-sized issue bringing this story arc to a close, and we’re already moist with anticipation.
Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #2 (of 5) – Image Comics, Frank J. Barbiere (writer), Chris Mooneyham (artist)
Five Ghosts completely knocked our socks off when it debuted last month, and for very good reason. Barbiere’s story is set on a solid foundation of old-school adventure stories, and the titular Fabian Gray being a man possessed by five literary ghosts that grant him special abilities. As we pick up where the first issue left off, by way of a flashback that involves conception, Gray appears to have temporarily lost his abilities. Ancient tribesman, giant spiders and mystical forces conspire to make this a rapid-fire read, one that might literally have you sitting perched on the edge of your chair waiting for the next issue to emerge. Perhaps the cleverest thing about Barbiere’s writing is that he never feels the need to over-explain the powers or actions of his lead. Like the best pulp adventures (although using ‘pulp’ here is really only to describe the inspiration), we simply accept that these mystical happenings are the norm in Fabian Gray’s world. It’s not done with irony like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen either, it simply delivers a rip-roaring adventure that gives us more questions about the nature of Gray’s “tragic encounter” years ago. Equally dazzling is Chris Mooneyham’s distinctive vintage style, that captures the spirit of the pulp adventures that inspire it, raising it to the epic proportions of Alan Moore’s Tales of the Black Freighter. The colours and style are deliberately retro, and S.M Vidaurri is the unsung colourist hero of the volume. Bringing rich life to Barbiere and Mooneyham’s creations, this is an action serial brought to vivid life.
Mara #4 – Image Comics, Brian Wood (writer), MIng Doyle (artist)
We’ve been sorely neglecting this outstanding series for the last few months, simply because it has taken us a while to catch up with everything. It’s a serious crime, because Brian Wood’s own creation is seriously good. It shouldn’t be surprising from the guy who brought us DMZ and Northlanders, but Wood continues to build his future dystopia flawlessly, revealing just enough details to get us permanently hooked. No stranger to “coming of age with superpowers”, especially from someone already know for his X-Men work, Wood’s take on Mara’s awakening to her new powers is certainly a unique one. Taking the extraordinary gifts in her stride in some scenes, becoming something more sinister in others, we wonder how much Mara is now in control of her own body – an apt question for someone that we are reminded is “not even legal yet”. Now under the employ of the government, Mara’s gifts find new power levels every issue. She already had the respect and adoration of the world, but will she soon command their fear? What keeps Wood’s series compelling issue after issue is that we really can’t tell where this is going next, and that’s a breath of fresh air in modern comics. Ming Doyle’s art is something else, all the more impressive for sticking to a simple colour palette. Television images are limited to three simply colours most of the time, as if the “real life” events are somehow more real than what is being reported. Mara’s encounter in the desert, before her final lift-off to literally take the ending through the stratosphere, are some of the best pieces of art this week.
It is a shame that the creative team are leaving after Issue #5 in a few months, because the current run of Nova is incredibly good. Distinct in tone from any Nova series that has gone before, Loeb has injected a youthful vibe into the title by actually making Nova a young boy. The concept that worked so well in the 1960s for Spider-man still works today, providing the title with energy levels that are normally reserved for Saturday morning cartoons. Indeed, we are told in the first panel that the issue picks up 3 seconds after the end of the previous one. Ironically, Loeb is in no particular hurry to bestow full Nova status on the young Sam Alexander, with this issue seeing him more or less ‘trained’ (read: pushed) for action by Guardians of the Galaxy members Gamora and Rocket Raccoon. Hints are finally given about former Nova Richard Rider’s fate, although with Peter Quill back we have to assume that he is out there somewhere. It also does a great job of fleshing out Rocket and Gamora for new readers, something that the first issue of Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t quite manage to do. This is a fun and energetic issue, leading up to something big, but we’ve been building up to it for three issues now. We can’t wait to see what is unleashed in the next two issues, because this bit is well and truly chomped at. McGuinness matches Loeb pound for pound, and the subtleties of a very one-sided conversation with The Watcher are some of the most priceless moments in the book. Brings the “Now!” into the Marvel NOW! line.
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