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This week (24 April 2013) is huge! We’ve got the first chapter of Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas’s mini-series Amala’s Blade #1 (Dark Horse), Grant Morrison bringing in the last of his run in Batman Incorporated #10 (DC Comics), the continuation of the unique East of West #2 (Image Comics), Brian Michael Bendis’s sophomore issue of Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel), an origin story of sorts in Judge Dredd: Year One #2 (IDW), an inevitable cameo in Talon #7 (DC Comics) and yet another conclusion in X-Termination #2 (Marvel). This is Graphic Bits.
Amala’s Blade #1 (of 4) – Dark Horse, Steve Horton (writer), Michael Dialynas (artist)
First appearing in the pages of Dark Horse Presents, and later reprinted in Amala’s Blade #0, this debut issue is not actually the master assassin’s first outing. Nevertheless, it is a perfect jumping on point for this incredibly fun and lively new mini-series. We join Amala shortly after the events of the previous adventure, still plagued by the ghosts only she can see, hiding out in a bar with a large bounty on her head. After making a spectacle of herself in her latest assignment, the corpulent Vizier concocts to send her off on an assignment so dangerous that she has no hope of survival. However, this is Amala, and impossible is just another day. Horton’s previous story allowed little time for pause, and while this is a cracking adventure it also gives us some nice character building moments between Amala and the farming community she has bonded with. Dialynas’s art is the perfect compliment to Horton’s high adventure, a distinctive mix that sits somewhere between Steve Purcell and Riley Rossmo. It might be a truism, but these characters have character, which is a nice break from mainstream’s interchangeable genre puppets. A fascinating world where Steampunk meets Cyberpunk, it is sure to please both crowds and draw in those who are in virgin territory.
It was only two months ago that Grant Morrison quietly killed off Damian Wayne/Robin, and it has literally had an impact on every Batman book since. So as Morrison begins to bring his singular run with the character to a close, and threatens to leave capes forever, he really doesn’t let up on bringing the weird. In this issue, we get the surprising re-introduction of Michael Lane aka Azrael. In the old-school DCU, Azrael was kind of a forerunner to the Talons, another order that trained its soldiers to be unstoppable killing machines. Yet while Morrison’s run may have touched the rest of the Newish Bat 52 in a big way with the death of Robin, this issue continues to set itself apart. In the wake of the Leviathan attacks, and Wayne’s connection to Batman Inc, Gotham bans the Batman and all iconography associated with his attire. Meanwhile, tensions arise in the League of Shadows camp between Talia and her “other” offspring. Chris Burnham’s art is an always a reliable companion to Morrison, although he is joined here by Jason Masters and Andrei Bressan for about half a dozen pages. The difference is perceptible, albeit hardly distracting as they at least seem to approximate Burnham’s art. On closer inspection it really makes you appreciate just how special Burnham’s panels are, especially when we reach the spectacular “WTF?” moment on the final page of the book. With only two issues left on this run, we know that we’re going to be in for a hell of a ride.
When East of West debuted last month, we commented that this “blend of Sci-Fi, Western and post-apocalyptic madness brings the weird for what is possibly the strongest debut of the year so far”. The second issue doesn’t disappoint, making good on the promise of the first outing. Yet where that initial issue laid out all of Hickman’s cool concepts on the table, teasing us with their possibilities, Part 2 allows us to get a little deeper into the mythology of the world he is still building. For instance, we get a much clearer picture of how the nations that make up the US fit together, and how they work with (and against) the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death is also given some background, and the interesting character of Andrew Archibald Chamberlain, Chief of Staff at the Black Towers. The no-nonsense character could have stepped out of an archival poster, but he is certainly holding onto some powerful secrets. Indeed, his toe-to-toe conversation with Death is one of the best two-handers in comics this month, and his revelations put Death’s mission (and indeed character) in a whole new light. Dragotta’s art is a thing of beauty, and along with colourist Frank Martin, gives the unfolding world a palette that may be entirely unique to this book. A compelling read that demands your full attention, East of West has now solidified the reputation it rightfully earned last month. Is it really a month until issue 3?
Bendis’s decision to bring the Guardians back fighting for Earth was initially disappointing. After all, the previous DnA run had thrown us in at the deep end, and the stakes were for existence itself. Bringing the fight to our shores instantly raises the question of where Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (the Avengers/Fantastic Four/The Defenders/Power Pack are all name-checked) might have gotten to, although this is at least partly dismissed in some interruption with communications. Likewise, the inclusion of Iron Man on the roster almost implied that the estranged (and often just plain strange) team couldn’t stand on their own two legs/paws/roots. Yet with the Badoon invasion underway (“Again?” quips Tony Stark), the concepts of Bendis’s cosmic universe begin to emerge. We definitely start to get a sense that Quill has been set up, and this is definitely not the same Guardians that once defended the galaxy as a dysfunctional but tight-knit group. Here they seem to be playing for different teams at times, Drax in particular not operating at full capacity. Bendis pulls it together for a cliffhanger, but he does try and hammer home far too much information about galactic politics to perhaps make this engaging to new readers. This is, after all, a jumping-on title that is a gateway drug to next year’s feature film. Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli’s art is incredibly striking though, particularly shining on the sleek designs of the Guardians’ ships and suits. There’s also a double-page spread filled with a holographic image that is a showstopper, but perhaps that is because it is also filled with almost 20 of Bendis’s word balloons. This might be a changed group, but let’s hope that nobody is forgetting the fun and irreverence that made the last series so critically successful.
Last month, we mused that the problem with this “Year One” book was that it didn’t seem all that different from any other Judge Dredd story one might concoct. Here author Smith seems to go out of his way to make sure you know that Joe Dredd is a rookie, right down to the tried-and-true scene in which said loose cannon rookie questions authority in the captain’s office. Except Dredd is unsure of himself, unused to dealing with the newly emerging psychic abilities emerging in the city, Dredd seeks refuge in the one thing he knows to be true: the Law. While it is still a pretty standard investigation into the abnormal, it is still filled with some classic lines from the man himself. “I got nothing, ‘cept an aggravating sense of redundancy,” quips Dredd. A particularly apt line before he quite literally steps into a whole new world. Simon Coleby’s art, once again accompanied by Leonard O’Grady’s distinctive colour palette, is just about perfect for the task at hand. There is a weariness to the older Judges, a sinister side to the empowered ‘juves’ and a tangible element to the slums Dredd investigates. The narration remarks that Dredd’s “lack of psychic ability didn’t stop him feeling the despair in the place”, and nor is it a skill required by the reader, for Coleby lays it out for the world to see. A particularly cool sequence can be found as Dredd topples a sign onto some perps, and it is style so that it almost looks as though the artist has dropped the letters into the page himself. An interesting introduction to the character, but probably not essential reading for long time fans.
Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV have been doing so very special things with Batman, and a recent outing of Detective Comics celebrating its 900th issue teased the arc that begins in their Talon this month. Certain revelations have come to light about the titular Calvin Rose’s benefactor, but the big moments will be the appearance of Bane, teased on this month’s “WTF?” cover. Prior to this, Calvin finds himself in an unlikely alliance with a Talon, and has a meeting with another inevitable cameo on the rooftops of Gotham. It’s a testament to Snyder and Tynion that they have held off on the appearance of Batman until this moment, although it kind of makes sense given that they’ve had him otherwise occupied with various deaths in the family. Written with the same street-level intensity that their Batman has, this particular issue proves Calvin to be a formidable match for the Bat, daring to escape from his grasp and tell him “I don’t have time for a sanctimonious lecture from a man in a bat suit.” Guillem March handles the action scenes with confidence, literally taking Calvin to the skies at some points before dragging him back to street level. His Batman is actually frightening, a true Dark Knight, mostly put in place to remind us that the Court of Owls aren’t the only power in Gotham. As the imposing Bane makes an appearance in the final pages, things are going to get interesting over the coming months.
The crossover between Astonishing X-Men, X-Treme X-Men and Age of Apocalypse reaches its conclusion this month, also bringing to a close two of those series. Since the first issue, the story has continued through those other titles (this marks “Chapter Twelve: New Apocalypse”), seeing fatalities in several of the X-Terminated and X-Treme X-Men. With only Nightcrawler left with the ability to seal off the rift that threads to tear apart the fabric of existence (or something), much of this issue deals with the lead-up to that big event, and some reconciliation between characters and decisions for others. Perhaps the biggest gripe with this book is the art. As can be seen from the list of cooks in this kitchen, there’s a great deal of inconsistency between the styles and character models, but perhaps it was simply a case of everybody having a hand on this not-so-fond farewell to several titles. The additional problem with the formatting and pacing of this issue is that the big moment that we are building towards is literally over in a single panel, with the epilogue making a swift entrance on the very next page. This may disappoint some who wish to see a bit more closure to these characters after such a prolonged saga. That said, the final page does give some hope for those wanting to see a few of the departed return to the fray, and we will no doubt see them do just that by the time the next mini-event rolls around. Definitely not essential reading.
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