Don’t have time for long 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.
Last week (4 December 2013), Marvel’s Infinity has finished, but oh the Inhumanity! Then the Avengers get their first Marvel NOW! annual. Over at DC (where all the comics are a little bit shorter this month for some reason), the Australian creative team continues to craft Earth 2, while it’s an Emerald Week for Green Arrow and Green Lantern. Finally, if you aren’t reading Velvet (Image Comics), we give you a bunch of reasons why you should be doing that. This is Graphic Bits.
Avengers Annual #1 – Marvel, Kathryn Immonen (writer), David Lafuente (artist).
So this is Christmas? The world of the Avengers (soon to be Avengers World) has been epic and complicated over the last two years, with Jonathan Hickman’s foundation rumbling arc requiring our complete and undivided attention. Kathryn Immonen’s Yuletide one-shot is a breath of fresh air, and sometimes silly but always joyful seasonal romp. It begins with a MacGuffin of a premise that leaves Captain America alone in the Avengers mansion, while a young student of Shang-Chi embattles some rather familiar voices in her head. Immonen’s story is more in the spirit of Avengers Assemble, being less about the big alien invasions and more about this dysfunctional family during the holidays. It also mostly makes use of the core group familiar to film viewers, so is highly accessible to people wanting to pick up a comic for the first time. Lafuente is a perfect companion to this vibe, his cartoonish style bringing the right mix of comedy and action, and even some drama where it counts. A sequence in a soup kitchen with Captain America is a high point for both the writer and the artist, making this a toasty little Christmas cracker to gather round.
Tom Taylor’s ability to keep us on our toes throughout Injustice has nicely transitioned over to the pages of Earth 2. After knocking the wind out of our sails with a few revelations last month, he’s determined to keep knock the last remnants out with one genuine surprise after the next. The mystery around the new Batman deepens, and Lois Lane as the new Red Tornado confronts the Dark Knight in a terrific union of drama and art by Taylor and Scott. Even more fascinating is the path that led Superman to being one of the biggest villains in this brave new world, and we suspect Taylor gets more than a little enjoyment in subverting one of his favourites. It’s an issue where the appearance of an Atlantean queen and a plugged-in Jimmy Olsen make perfect sense, because Scott creates a horrific vision of parademons emerging from pit all across the world. Indeed, all of Scott’s art is phenomenal, effortlessly darkening her outlook (with Trevor Scott’s inks and Pete Pantazis’s colours) to keep pace with Taylor’s gleeful damnation of Earth (2)’s mightiest heroes. Despite taking place on a parallel Earth, it remains an exemplar of how DC should be looking at their New 52 properties, stripping them down and rebuilding them from the ground up. The heroes may come out a little misshapen, and miss the odd part, but they are all the more intriguing for it.
The New 52 Green Arrow has been a hit and miss affair, but Lemire and Sorrentino’s revival from issue #17 has never strayed far from the centre of the target. The beginning of “The Outsiders War” run finally promises to shed some light on the origin story of the rebooted Ollie, who is inching closer to a merry union of old-school Green Arrow and television’s Arrow with every issue. The return to the island is a slow, but nevertheless atmospheric, kick-off to this new arc, utilising the uneasy dynamic between Shado and Ollie, paying only the merest bits of lip service to the ‘Team Arrow’ that are becoming increasingly irrelevant. The Arrow Clan concept is an intriguing one, and it’s setting the series up for something completely different to what has come before. Sorrentino excels in the lush playground of the island’s jungle, but gives us some rare light-hearted art in the lead-up as well. The gentle back-and-forth between Ollie’s crew (over pizza and beverages, no less!) showcases a brighter side for a comic that has gone to some dark places in recent months, and gives us a nice segue into an origin-defining arc for the increasingly high profile character.
Robert Venditti’s post-Geoff Johns run has been a worthy successor to the decade-long epic, and “Lights Out” was one of the highlights of the comic book event calendar. However, this fallout issue doesn’t quite have the same impact of its immediate predecessor, although the rift it sets up is one that promises to pay off down the track. We effectively have one long fight sequence between Star Sapphire Nol-Anj and her followers, and the Green Lanterns that are able to respond to a distress call. As such, it’s really more of a showcase for the wonderful Billy Tan, who has the ‘charge of the cavalry’ splash page down to a fine art. For an issue that has pockets of dialogue-heavy conversational stretches, the artist still manages to find interesting angles to stage the chats. Yet when Tan is let off the hook, which is every other page, there’s some old-school Lantern action, not least of which is delivering Kilowog on a serving tray, that even the restrictive use of the light spectrum doesn’t slow down. Ultimately, the issue doesn’t push us much further along the story path than where we started, but it does lay the foundation for many issues to come. By its very nature, this kind of issue doesn’t lend itself to being terribly sexy, but it’s just a shame given the high standard already set for this series.
Events begetting the next big event is a fact of life in the world of serial storytelling, although to be fair, Infinity came to a suitably satisfying conclusion after a lengthy run-up. Inhumanity #1 serves a dual purpose in the wake of that series. Firstly, it’s a recap of one of the main sub-threads of that arc, namely the fall of Atillan and the awakening of dormant Inhumans with powers across the globe. It’s also about the impact of that string of events, especially as Karnak has deducted some secrets that fallen Inhuman king Black Bolt kept even from his raven-haired queen (and sometimes FF member) Medusa. It’s a “zero” issue, introducing readers to the characters and concepts that will run throughout many titles in the coming months. Fraction plays to his strengths, particularly with some nice interactions between Hawkeye and Karnak, immediately prior to a shock ending that will set the rest of the series in motion. Superstar Coipel manages to shine in an issue that is predominantly a talkfest, but imbues each of the Avengers with a quiet splendour. He’s also able to break your heart in places, including a flashback of an Inhuman father trying to save his son by exposing him to Terrigen Mists, and watching him change before his eyes. Ultimately, it’s a fable about disillusionment, about seeing that the emperor has no clothes and being unable to view it any other way once glimpsed. It’s a promising start for an arc that is yet to define its main point of drama, and for now this serves as a teaser for future issues.
Velvet came like a bolt out of the blue, and delivered us a fully formed heroine in its titular Velvet Templeton, a ‘Miss Moneypenny’ type that steps out from behind the desk and returns to the field. Investigating the death of agent X-14, a James Bond type, Velvet has been set up by her own agency and is now on the run. The good news is that Brubaker doesn’t let up on the momentum for a second, serving up a classy piece of spy action that is cinematic in scope, but made from the stuff that only the best comic books can conjure. It’s told almost exclusively from Velvet’s point of view via a running narration, except for a few key pieces of near-revelation that are really just big teases that successfully sink their claws into the curiosity centres of our brains. We continue to be convinced that Epting hasn’t so much created these characters as gone back in time and studied them in action, as they come to life as rounded and real-world individuals, instantly distinguishable from one another in a sea of Breitweiser’s sublime Cold War colours. There’s really no two ways about it: you’re going to have to read this book. We’ll just be waiting here until you get back. Off you go.
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