December 21, 2012

The Pull List: 19 December 2012

Possibly the best Double Dragon tribute in a comic book ever.
Marvel's double-shipping policy has become ridiculous this week, with a fourth issue of All-New X-Men hitting the shelves, as well as early issues of Thunderbolts, Thor: God of Thunder, X-Men Legacy, Hawkeye, Avengers, Avengers Arena, Cable and X-Force and FF. The week is an absolute killer for the wallet, partly because of double-shipping but also because DC and Marvel have basically shipped all of next week's comics this week.

News has just hit that Shelly Bond will take over DC Vertigo from Karen Berger. It's the obvious choice, but also the most sensible one. I really do hope DC give Bond some serious marketing support and help give some of Vertigo's titles a bit of a sales push. It will be good to see some new long-form series get launched through the imprint in 2013. With the imminent closure of Hellblazer and Sweet Tooth, and American Vampire on hiatus, things are looking a bit thin on the ground over there.

Writer Dan Slott has received death threats over what he's currently doing with The Amazing Spider-Man. I won't spoil what he's been doing with the character here, but I did want to shake my head at the stupidity of some people. I'm very happy Slott has elected to get the police involved, because some over-entitled, childish comic book fans need to learn what it means to be an adult in the real world. Top marks to Gerry Conway for his tweet: 'Makes me grateful we threw Gwen off that bridge before Twitter'.

Under the cut: reviews of Batwoman, Captain America, Daredevil, FF, Green Lantern, Happy, Hawkeye, Journey into Mystery, Legion of Super-Heroes, Multiple Warheads, Rotten Apple, Saga, Sword of Sorcery, Thor: God of Thunder, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and X-Men Legacy - and if you think that looks like too many comics, it's because it is. All-New X-Men #4 was purchased, but mislaid. I promise I'll review it soon.

Batwoman #15
DC Comics. Written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. Art by Trevor McCarthy.
While Batwoman and Wonder Woman prepare to tackle Medusa head-on, this issue takes a sideways step to focus on police detective Maggie Sawyer as she struggles to stop a group of distraught parents from turning vigilante. It's a surprising shift in gears - I was expecting to read the climax of the Medusa arc this month - but it turns out to be a welcome change. Trevor McCarthy's artwork is perfectly suited to this issue, which really feels like a step into someone else's comic for a month. It's nice to see Sawyer get some attention and some character development. Hopefully these sorts of one-shots on supporting characters will continue in the future. They're a nice palette cleanser and help enrich the main character's background. Of course the most impressive thing about this issue is how, even with Batwoman and Wonder Woman out of the picture, it's still a story about strong, powerful women in control of their own lives. (5/5)

Captain America #2
Marvel Comics. Written by Rick Remender. Art by John Romita Jr., Klaus Jansen and Dean White.
I always love a comic whose first page simply reads 'one year later'. Last issue saw Captain America thrown into a strange alternate dimension, where he escaped captivity and rescued a baby. Now it's a year later, and he's still wandering the alternate dimension with a toddler in tow. This is Lone Wolf and Cub meets Planet Hulk, with added flashbacks to Steve Rogers' childhood. In other words, this is absolutely exceptional stuff seemingly tailored specifically to my reading needs. John Romita Jr's artwork is typically expressive, while Remender's script is engaging and inventive. Captain America's been starring in comics for decades, and full marks to Remender and Romita for finding a fresh angle after so many stories have already been published. (4/5)

Daredevil #21
Marvel Comics. Written by Mark Waid. Art by Chris Samnee.
Daredevil finally gets some answers as to why the mysterious Coyote has been manipulating events to push him over the edge. It's another excellently written instalment by Mark Waid, with Chris Samnee's artwork continuing to be distinct and engaging. To be honest it's getting difficult to think of new things to say about this comic, as it's been so consistently entertatining since issue #1. This issue does feature (rather sneakily on Marvel's part) the first-ever appearance by the new 'superior' Spider-Man, albeit only for one page. It's a pretty hilarious page, though. (4/5)

FF #2
Marvel Comics. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by Michael Allred.
I like Matt Fraction as a writer. I like Michael Allred as an artist. I'm a fan of She-Hulk. I love the concept of Ant Man, She-Hulk, Medusa (with her prehensile hair) and Johnny Storm's girlfriend in a Thing suit replacing the Fantastic Four and fighting crime. Every indication is that I should absolutely dig this comic to bits. I don't. It felt rather tedious and dull to me. I'm trying to pinpoint exactly why it doesn't work, and can't really figure it out. I think it may be that it's simply not funny enough. It's aesthetic promises poppy fun and it simply doesn't deliver that. Other readers may enjoy it more, I'm giving it a miss for here on in. (2/5)

Green Lantern #15
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy.
While the Guardians continue their insane fight against the Green Lanterns, Simon Baz tries to track evidence that will clear his name with the FBI. I'm really enjoying the adventures of Simon Baz, and hope that Geoff Johns keeps him around for the long haul. He's so much more interesting that Hal Jordan (yeah, I know, everyone is more interesting, blah blah, etc) and has huge story potential. It's a shame that Johns didn't start the new volume of Green Lantern with Simon's story as it's been a great introduction to the GL franchise. This month he learns the hard way that those power rings do need recharging from time to time. Great stuff. (4/5)

Happy #3
Image Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Darick Robertson.
There are some very nice plot developments in this issue that were obvious in retrospect, but still managed to catch me by surprise. This has been a good miniseries - obviously now that we're more than halfway through I suspect it'll be a better idea for new readers to wait for the trade paperback, but if this is the case you should absolutely keep an eye out for it. Darick Robertson's artwork is exactly what you'd expect: bold, clear, slightly cartoony and often very funny. Goodness knows how they're going to pull it all together in the last issue though. (4/5)

Hawkeye #6
Marvel Comics. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by David Aja.
2012's best new comic continues being 2012's best new comic. This week I listened to an episode of the excellent podcast War Rocket Ajax, where Matt Fraction was explaining his approach on this comic: more panels per page, denser storytelling, single-issue stories, and so on. All of his new techniques are paying off with amazing dividends. This is the best value superhero comic on the shelves, and manages to be beautifully characterised, smart and very, very funny. David Aja's artwork is great as well, with incredible subtle emotions expressed by each of the characters. This is a self-contained Christmas story, with a series of events told out in a clever non-linear fashion. This issue is worth it for the conversation between Clint Barton and Tony Stark alone, but that's only about three out of 20 pages. I don't know how many times I can say this, but I'll try for the sixth time: you have to read this comic. Go now. Download it from Comixology. Drive to your nearest comic shop. It's okay. I'll wait. (5/5)

Journey Into Mystery #647
Marvel Comics. Written by Kathryn Immonen. Art by Valerio Schiti.
In this issue, Sif struggles to control her new berserker powers in a string of confrontations with the resident warriors of Asgard. Like the issue before it, this comic is good without being great. Certainly Schiti's art is gorgeous, particularly in the way Sif is presented in a muscular, non-sexualised manner. I also still love the idea of giving Sif her own comic book. The story by Kathryn Immonen isn't bad either, in fact it's very entertaining. It just somehow falls short of that special "wow" factor that would make this book a must-read. It's still worth getting though; if nothing else I like to demonstrate to DC and Marvel that I like reading books about female heroes. (3/5)

Legion of Super-Heroes #15
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by Francis Portela.
Scott Kolins, whose artwork has sometimes been so poor at to tempt me to drop this book, is gone. We've got Francis Portela for the next few issues, and he's got a much more pleasing style. In this issue Gloranth sets off a strange time storm in 30th century Barcelona, leading to a struggle with witch-burning medieval Spaniards and dinosaurs. It's a solid, enjoyable superhero romp, engaging without being gripping, and entertaining without being exceptionally clever. I'd love to see Paul Levitz lift his game with this book and start pushing the envelope a little. Hopefully with the impending arrival of permanent artist (and Legion veteran) Keith Giffen, this may happen. (3/5)

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #3
Image Comics. Story and art by Brandom Graham.
There's so much detail in each issue of Multiple Warheads. Little jokes, strange little segues, tiny captions and so on. It's a wonderfully dense read, providing great value for money in a time where page counts are getting shorter and the number of panels per page are shrinking. In this issue Sexica receives a lucrative job offer from the organ hounds. It's delightfully weird stuff: the highlight of the issue is actually a strange little alien guy who delivers food to a frightening magic tower. He seeks comfort with his boyfriend, a human dancer who cuts pictures out of magazines to tell romantic stories with them. This is usually the point where I might say something along the lines of "this book may not be for everyone", but screw it: this book is for everyone. It's clever, entertaining funny, strange and utterly original. Get it. (5/5)

Rotten Apple
Dark Horse. Written by Chuck Brown. Art by Sanford Greene.
A woman in the future dystopia of Rotten Apple is hired to recover an ancient religious artefact - only she's not the only one looking for it. This is a neat little serial from Dark Horse Presents gets collected together into this one-shot. It's a clever idea, tempting roving readers such as myself who may not read Dark Horse Presents, and successfully selling the same comic book story twice. It's an entertaining one-shot with some clever ideas. I didn't fall in love with it, but neither did I regret the purchase. If you want to buy a comic this week that doesn't require any future or past purchase, this is a good pick. It makes a nice last-minute inexpensive Christmas present for a friend, for example. (3/5)

Saga #8
Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.
While Marco and his mother go looking for Izabel, while Alana gets to know her father-in-law better. This is a predictably wonderful comic, with some long-awaited flashbacks to Marco and Alana's first meeting, and at least two major surprises by the issue's conclusion. The inventiveness of this comic continues to please me: if it isn't the wooden spaceship Alana is in, it's the unexpected truth behind the small planet that Marco is exploring. Fiona Staples' art continues to be among the best in the business. The first trade paperback is in stores and priced very cheaply, so you have no real excuse not to get onboard with this imaginative, awesome comic. (5/5)

Sword of Sorcery #3
DC Comics. Written by Christy Marx. Art by Aaron Lopresti. Backup written by Tony Bedard with art by Jesus Saiz.
My problem is not that Sword of Sorcery isn't good. My problem is that I'm not sure it's good enough for me to purchase on a monthly basis. We're four issues in and it just doesn't feel as if quite enough has happened. Add to that a fairly unnecessary (although by no means poorly written or drawn) backup strip and a $3.99 price tag, and Sword of Sorcery winds up feeling like a luxury I'm not sure I want to afford. The next issue sees Amethyst leave Gemworld for an encounter with John Constantine. I suspect a pitch like that will either make or break this comic for me. (3/5)

Thor: God of Thunder #3
Marvel Comics. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Esad Ribic.
In the present day, Thor investigates the identity of the mysterious God killer - and discovers the frightening extent of his crimes. I am adoring this book, which cleverly tells a story split across three distinct periods in Thor's life. Jason Aaron has developed a fantastic vision of how the various pantheons of Gods might operate in the Marvel universe, and in this issue we get see a remarkably broad cross-section of them (albeit mostly already dead). The three time periods could make the book confusing, but Aaron has turned that complexity into a strength, drip-feeding us information in a suspenseful and effective manner. Esad Ribic's artwork is beautiful and suits the epic, godly nature of the book to a tee. (5/5)

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #18
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by David Marquez.
In the aftermath of the battle with Hydra, Miles finds himself lost in the middle of nowhere and in a fight with Giant Woman. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is a book that always runs slowly: we're 18 issues in (19 including the "point one" issue) and we've only really seen Miles fight crime maybe twice. The pace usually isn't an issue because in its place Bendis provides so much strong characterisation and depth. I've been finding myself losing interest over the course of this current "Divided We Fall/United We Stand" arc, however, mainly because as this is the only Ultimate book I read I feel I've been missing most of the story. There's still good character work done here, but I have to admit I'm glad it ends the arc here. Next issue Venom is back, which is much more exciting. (3/5)

Wonder Woman #15
DC Comics. Written by Brian Azzarello. Art by Cliff Chiang.
 Wonder Woman continues searching for Zola's child. Hera orders room service. Orion of the New Gods makes his New 52 debut. This is a fantastic issue of a regularly fantastic book. I've said before that I was initially unsure of how I felt about Azzarello's take on Wonder Woman, but we're far enough in now to agree the good elements have far outweighed the drawbacks of changing Diana's origins. I love how Orion is introduced, I adore the new wrinkle it puts on Wonder Woman's mythology, and I really dig Diana's brand-new superpower that debuts towards the end. It's all simply incredible. Cliff Chiang's artwork is still great: I really appreciate how both DC and Marvel have started to shift away from the more slick, detailed, 1990s style artwork and embraced art with a bit of an edge, as it is here, or in Hawkeye and Daredevil. (5/5)

X-Men Legacy #3
Marvel Comics. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Tan Eng Huat.
David Heller heads off to Japan to rescue two young mutants, all the while working to control his powers and his sanity. Meanwhile a team of X-Men led by Wolverine are on the hunt to track him down. I think this is very likely going to settle down as the new Generation Hope: the X-book that's one of the most entertaining and interesting, but which is going to fail to secure enough readers in the long-term. This is a shame, because I think Spurrier is onto something very inventive here. Tang Eng Huat's artwork is strong and distinctive. This book has a bit of a Shade the Changing Man vibe to it, which I like. (3/5)

Dropped this week: This was the final issue I'll purchase for FF
Winner of the week: It's a closely fought contest this week among the six (count 'em) five-star comic books, but in the end I've decided to give it to Batwoman #15.
Loser of the week: FF has simply failed to grab my attention, but this is a case where your mileage may differ.

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