January 4, 2013

The Pull List: 2 January 2013

The second hardcover volume of DC's New 52 Green Lantern was published this week, collecting issues 7 to 12 of the popular superhero title. A paperback edition of issues 1 to 6 was also published. The reason I bring this up is that this month will also see the release of Green Lantern #16, putting the monthly comic four issues ahead of the collected editions. Those four issues were popular sell-outs as well, as anyone who reads Green Lantern Volume 2 and expects to pop into their local comic shop to find out what happens next is going to be sorely disappointed.

At the same time Image has published the second volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' excellent Lovecraftian noir Fatale, incorporating issues 6 to 10 of the monthly series. Simultaneously released is issue 11 of the monthly series, so anybody who likes what they read in the book will have no problem picking up the next instalment of the story. Image will score a bunch of new monthly readers with this, improving the comic's sales and making it more sustainable. They use this strategy a lot, and you can see the benefits in a title like The Walking Dead, which scores a small boost in readers every six months as a result of it.

I can't help but think DC and Marvel are missing a trick here by not publishing their collected editions on a better schedule.

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, All-Star Western, Batman Incorporated, Daredevil: End of Days, The Flash, 47 Ronin, Great Pacific, The Manhattan Projects, New Avengers, Prophet, Red She-Hulk and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. I've also included reviews of Aquaman, Justice League and Mara from last week, as well as All-New X-Men from two weeks ago - now that I've finally located my copy.

All-New X-Men #4
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia.
This was released two weeks ago. Something I am really enjoying about this book is how Bendis is cleverly writing it to work in two directions. You can read it as a story about the present-day Cyclops being confronted with the innocence of his past, and exploring how far the X-Men have come since the 1960s. At the same time it works like a new version of "Days of Future Past", where the young and idealistic X-Men have been thrown into a dark, horror future where Professor X has been murdered, an older Cyclops runs around with two villains, and Xavier's replacement is an angry, hairy Canadian maniac with retractable claws. (4/5)

All-New X-Men #5
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Marte Gracia.
The first story arc comes to an elegant close, as the main plot of All-New X-Men is laid out, and the various character relationships and directions are primed and set to go. This is brilliant stuff, combining new young mutants with old young mutants, and our standard X-regulars somewhere in between them. This issue, in which the race continues to save the Beast's life, we get a laugh-out-loud scene between him and the young Jean Grey. Low on action but high on plot and character development, this issue is the perfect contrast to issue #4. It's brilliant stuff - I just wish the shipping schedule would slow down a tad. There's a sixth issue due by the end of January. (5/5)

All-Star Western #15
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Moritat. Backup art by Phil Winslade.
Professor Arkham gets infected with Dr Jekyll's serum while Hex goes after Mr Hyde. There's something quite delightful about the fussy, repressed Arkham transforming into what must be the prissiest Mr Hyde ever created. Gray and Palmiotti get a lot of well deserved credit for writing strong western comic books, but what they don't often get credit for is how funny they make them at the same time. This issue forms part of a very loose crossover of DC titles featuring Eclipso's black diamond - it's so loose, however, I don't actually know what titles it crosses over with. It did score a mention in Demon Knights last month - did that count? The Tomahawk back-up continues in this issue, with wonderfully old-fashioned art by Phil Winslade. (4/4)

Aquaman #15
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Paul Pelletier, Art Thibert and Karl Kesel.
This issue is the second part of "Throne of Atlantis" - part 1, Justice League #15, is reviewed below. The second part is a lot more effective than the first, mainly because the annoying Superman-Wonder Woman romance is sidelined in favour of some actual plot and menace. This is a story with high stakes and an actual bodycount, and seems to be tying together many of the plot elements from Aquaman's first 14 issues. The climactic dockside confrontation between Ocean Master and the League bodes well for the rest of this storyline. (4/5)

Batman Incorporated #6
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Chris Burnham.
Grant Morrison's superhero comics have always been about the long game: his runs on New X-Men and JLA were both intricately developed sagas that often seemed throwaway or haphazard while they were running, but which pulled together into monumental climaxes by the end. Batman Incorporated #6 feels like we're about to hit the apex of one of those climaxes - elements all the way back from Morrison's Batman run before the New 52 are clicking into place, like pieces on a chessboard. It will all be a downhill scramble from here, with what's looking like catastrophic, tragic results. (5/5)

Daredevil: End of Days #4
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack. Art by Klaus Janson.
Oh this is getting slow. Each issue leads reporter Ben Urich to another old, decrepit version of a Marvel superhero or villain, and each one of them sends him off with another plot coupon - which he can exchange after eight issues for an ending. The art is fantastic. The dialogue is strong and rich in character. The plot is dragging like an 18 foot trailer without any wheels. This may be a lot more readable later down the line when Marvel collects it in a single edition: 20 pages at a time it's becoming excruciating. (2/5)

The Flash #15
DC Comics. Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato. Art by Francis Manapul.
The "Gorilla Warfare" arc takes an issue to slow down, bring all the plot elements back into position, and set itself up for the finale. Once again we're treated to some great panel layouts from Francis Manapul, particularly the climactic sequence as Barry Allen tries to work out what he can do to save the city from Gorilla Grodd and his army. As always, this is a rock solid superhero comic - never quite exceptional enough to score five out of five, but almost guaranteed to be a solid four month in, month out. (4/5)

47 Ronin #2
Dark Horse. Written by Mike Richardson. Art by Stan Sakai.
There's a great one-page afterword to this issue by its editor, which gives an insight into Stan Sakai's artistic practices. Something I did not know is that Sakai is so wholly trusted by Dark Horse that the first they see of any issue of his long-running comic Usagi Yojimbo is the finished art pages when he sends them to the publisher for print. That trust had been earned by decades of exceptional, consistent, near-faultless comic work, and it's well placed in this five-issue adaptation of the classic Japanese samurai legend. Mike Richardson has penned a strong, elegant script, and Sakai has translated it into an absolutely gorgeous comic with clear, cartoony designs and wonderfully subtle colours. This is an outstanding book, and a must-read for anybody interested in quality graphic storytelling. (5/5)

Great Pacific #3
Image. Written by Joe Harris. Art by Martin Morazzo.
Poor Chas Worthington. The young billionaire absconded with huge piles of money from his corporation and thought he'd set about transforming the Pacific Ocean garbage patch, and instead his equipment is broken and he's on the run from a giant octopus and getting tied up by a mysterious French woman. For some reason this book is reminding me of Brian K. Vaughn's Y: The Last Man quite a lot. It certainly still has a strong Vertigo vibe to it. It's entertaining stuff, although even at the three issue mark it's beginning to feel like it's not quite hitting the mark as it should. Still so much promise though. (3/5)

Justice League #15
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Backup art by Gary Frank.
I think Superman and Wonder Woman might just be the most boring couple in the history of superhero comics - it's just such a boneheaded idea that simply doesn't seem to work for either character. This issue, which introduces the crossover "Throne of Atlantis" arc, also gives Lois Lane a moment to get all jealous of Diana while running away from a tsunami - not cool, not believable. I'm also not a huge fan of Geoff John's depiction of the Justice League, where the individual members seem to be distrustful of each other even after five years of saving the world together. These negative elements are a great pity, because "Throne of Atlantis" looks like a great storyline, with big screen superhero action DC hasn't really seen since Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's run on JLA. Superman and Wonder Woman going on a date? Couldn't care. Superman and Wonder Woman catching a flying aircraft carrier? Now that's a Justice League comic. (3/5)

The Manhattan Projects #8
Image. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Nick Pitarra.
That sudden forward motion in the plot rockets ahead this issue, with wall to wall carnage as the cultish powers who rule the planet Earth strike to prevent the Manhattan Projects from going independent. For some reason it didn't appeal to me as much as the strange weirdness of earlier issues - by providing such an action-packed issue Hickman and Pitarra have lost the odd stuff that makes The Manhattan Projects such a great read. Pitarra's artwork also feels a little rushed here, or at least strangely a little "off". Hopefully things will be back to normal next issue. (3/5)

Mara #1
Image. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire.
In one of those "set in the future, really about the here and now" science fiction moves, Brian Wood and Ming Doyle tell the story of a future USA where there is so much warfare and strife in the world that the masses have to be distracted by enormously popular sporting events. Mara is a 17 year-old champion volleyball player with a secret. This is a very promising first issue and - sounded like a broken record here - another excellent science fiction title from Image. Simply put, this is the best near future science fiction volleyball drama published in comics today. (4/5)

New Avengers #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Steve Epting and Rick Magyar.
Black Panther walked away from the Illuminati - Namor, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Bolt, the Beast, Mr Fantastic and Dr Strange - when they tried to control the world. Now, with an inter-universal invasion about to occur, he needs their help to save the planet Earth. Which begs the question why this book is titled New Avengers and not The Illuminati or somesuch. It's an odd fit. This is a fairly promising first issue, but with so many new titles begging for attention the question is whether or not promising is sufficient any more. To get my dollar every month at this stage I feel like each book has to knock it out of the park. (3/5)

Prophet #32
Image. Story and art by Simon Roy.
Simon Roy runs solo on Prophet this month, giving us an excellent story about a female John Prophet on a mission fighting alien assassins and tracking down her male counterpart in the wilds. It's a great issue: quite self-contained for a casual reader looking for a bit of French inspired weirdness, but continuing the over-arching storyline brilliantly for long-term readers. It's also very cool getting an issue with a female protagonist for a change. As always there's additional value via an unrelated SF back-up strip at the end. (5/5)

Red She-Hulk #61
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Art by Carlo Pagulayan and Wellinton Alves.
I am really enjoying the hell out of this book. Four issues into the soft relaunch, and Red She-Hulk has provided new elements to Betty's powers, turned a second-string character (Machine Man) into a first-rate co-star, and opened up a mystery that should propel this book along for a year or more. The only question now is whether or not the readership will stick by it: it's effectively a spin-off of a spin-off starring a female protagonist and spinning off plot elements from a Jonathan Hickman miniseries half of Marvel's fanbase didn't read. I'm not sure how well this book is going to sell into the long term - but I'm absolutely loving it for now. (4/5)

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #19
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Sara Pichelli.
Hurrah! The Ultimate Universe civil war appears to be over! As a result, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man can get back to Miles Morales' slow, tortured adolescence as he tries to be Spider-Man and struggles to hide his identity from his parents. Ganke is back! I love Ganke. Mysterious goth girl who stares at Miles in class in back! I like her too! Sara Pichelli is back! She does great art. Venom is back - except hold your horses, because despite the cover Venom turns up pretty much on the last page. I've mentioned before that the pacing of this book can be glacially slow, but with such strong character development and dialogue, it's hard to care that much. I do sort of care about the Venom fake-out though. Don't put his tongue on the cover if he's not really going to be in the comic. (4/5)

Winner of the Week: While both All-New X-Men and Batman Incorporated continue to excel, it's 47 Ronin that's the winner for me: a simply faultless comic book.
Loser of the Week: Well probably Marvel's Morbius the Living Vampire, which is such a bone-headed idea for a monthly comic book that I didn't bother to buy it. Among the books I actually did pick up? Daredevil: End of Days I guess. I don't know, it's been a pretty solid week.

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