March 8, 2013

The Pull List: 6 March 2013

Oh Marvel, it's the mid-1990s all over again. I purchased the first part of the latest Marvel Universe "event" pretty much just to review it for this column: I'm not a big fan of Marvel's events, as more often than not they really suck. Siege sucked. Secret Invasion sucked. Civil War really sucked.

So the latest "event" (I put that in quotation marks because they're never really events at all - just a little churn on the surface of the never-ending, never-changing lives of the superheroes) is Age of Ultron, by Brian Michael Bendis, Bryan Hitch plus whatever artists they wind up dropping in because Hitch's art style is incompatible with a regular publishing schedule. I'll review the contents of the book beneath the cut, but right now I wanted to spend a little time talking about the cover.

You can't really tell from the picture of it here, but it's chrome. It's got that weird pseudo-metallic finish over it. You know, like they did all the time back in the 1990s when two-thirds of the comics being sold were picked up by idiot speculators who figured that because Detective Comics #27 is really valuable then surely Spawn #1 would be worth a million dollars if they just held onto it for 20 years. (Hint: you can buy Spawn #1 in near-mint condition online for just over five bucks.) You could buy comic with chrome covers, glow-in-the-dark covers, hologram covers, fifth-ink colours (usually silver or a lurid flourescent green), and die-cut cardboard covers.

The novelty cover is always a cheap sales gag, and tends to put my back up a bit. Surely this is just the start - before we know it one of the "big two" is bound to make an entire themed month out of novelty gatefold covers, and then where will we b- oh, wait.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath, this is a big week) Age of Ultron, All-New X-Men, Animal Man, Batwing, Bedlam, Daredevil: End of Days, Detective Comics, Fairy Quest, 47 Ronin, Great Pacific, Green Lantern, Human Bomb, Red She-Hulk, Sex, Stormwatch and Worlds' Finest.
Age of Ultron #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Bryan Hitch.
It's too early in the game to completely judge Age of Ultron, because all we have here is a set-up: we get to know where we our, who our characters are, and some hints at what on Earth has happened to the Marvel Universe. This is a "world gone to hell" post-apocalyptic story, which is stunning and bold on the one hand, but already redundant on the other - they can't leave the Marvel Universe in ruins and New York ruled by evil robots. Somewhere behind all of this lurks a big red reset button just begging to be pushed.

Still, until it gets pressed we can enjoy this book on its own merits. Hawkeye gets to star in this issue, enjoying a creative renaissance thanks to the Fraction-Aja solo book and a showy role in Joss Whedon's Avengers movie. The Fraction effect is rubbing off: this is very much the same version of the character, albeit in a much darker, more fraught environment. Bryan Hitch's art is predictably stunning. I was worried, while flicking past the first few splash pages, that this was going to be a very quick read, but the panel count rises much higher as the book goes on. (This is becoming a pet peeve of mine: we need more panels per page. If Marvel and DC are going to keep costs down by reducing comic book page counts to 20 pages of story per issue, they must increase the panel count at the same time to keep a satisfactory amount of narrative in each book. Hawkeye and Daredevil are two books doing this right. Others, not so much.)

All up, this is a fantastic first issue, with a hell of a final page kicker. I went in deeply skeptical, and figured I'd just review the first part and then leave the rest alone. Damn you, Bendis and Hitch. Damn you to hell for making me want to know what happens next. (5/5)

All-New X-Men #8
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by David Marquez.
There is a priceless scene in this issue where Captain America finds out about the time-travelling young mutants at the Jean Grey School, and has an argument with the Beast about it - only you don't get to hear that argument. Instead you get to hear Kitty Pryde and Iceman play out an impersonation of that argument from 50 metres away. Fans of Joss Whedon's TV series Angel will recall a very similar scene with Spike impersonating Angel from a nearby rooftop - this is just as funny. This isn't the only highlight - Bendis also manages to squeeze an "oooh shit" moment into this issue's final two pages. It's great stuff. (5/5)

Animal Man #18
DC Comics. Written by Jeff Lemire. Art by Steve Pugh.
I swear I cancelled this last month, but it somehow sneaked its way into my pull list this week. I figured what the hell, "Rotworld" is gone. Maybe the book can get back on track again. Nope. Even though "Rotworld" ended in Swamp Thing #17, this issue is still all about "Rotworld". The reset button you just knew was going to come finally arrives, with a tacked-on tragedy that feels less like an organic development of the story and more like a desperate attempt to make the last 18 issues actually matter. They don't. If I remember I'm going to cancel this comic for sure this month - this issue wasn't as bad as the last one, but it still wasn't worth $2.99. (2/5)

Batwing #18
DC Comics. Written by Fabian Nicieza. Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino.
Things are heating up to a devastating climax for David, as Fabian Nicieza's arc rushes toward its conclusion. This comic feels like it's tying up loose ends, settling all of the elements of David's story before Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti take over next month. As a result it's not worth recommending to new readers - hopefully next month will provide this book with the new audience it desperately needs to survive. It really benefits from this change of writer, however: it's giving Nicieza free reign to destroy David's world. (3/5)

Bedlam #5
Image Comics. Written by Nick Spencer. Art by Riley Rossmo.
This continues to be a great book, and this issue fills in many of the gaps in the story of how supervillain psychopath Madder Red became the pacifist wannabe hero Fillmore Press. Fillmore is a brilliant character: he's so devoted to being good, but it feels like there's this horrible potential for disaster lurking behind everything he says and does. I adore Riley Rossmo's art on this book, so I was quite sad to read this week that he is departing the title due to creative differences with writer Nick Spencer. Hopefully the segue to a new artist will run smoothly, because this is one of my favourite Image titles at the moment. (4/5)

Daredevil: End of Days #6
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack. Art by Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack and Alex Maleev.
David Mack provides some more art this issue: I really adore his art style, and he's being used to great effect here. The rest of the art, produced by Maleev, Janson and Sienkiewicz, is also outstanding. This really is a book you buy to admire the artwork - no disrespect intended toward Bendis' script (the third I've read this week - that man is a frightening workhorse), which is rock-solid. My favourite part? We've got two issues to go, it's been really entertaining, and I have no idea what is going to happen. (4/5)

Detective Comics #18
DC Comics. Written by John Layman. Art by Jason Fabok.
The emotional fallout from Batman Incorporated #8 is incorporated into this issue, but to be honest it feels shoe-horned in.The bulk is instead devoted to the Penguin losing his entire fortune at the hands of his once-trusted lieutenant, and to the introduction of Mr Zsasz into the New 52. And I don't like Mr Zsasz. I'm as big a fan of Batman as any superhero, and I adore his broad range of eccentric and disturbing villains. Zsasz is a serial killer who scratches a tally of his kills into his own skin. He's just vaguely gross and unpleasant. (3/5)

Fairy Quest #2
Boom Studios. Written by Paul Jenkins. Art by Humberto Ramos.
This is a really fun, beautiful all-ages fantasy book. I was a little concerned with the first issue that it would be too easily compared to Fables (and its televisual rip-offs Grimm and Once Upon a Time), but this second half is proving me wrong. In this issue, Peter Pan helps Riding Hood and Woof (that's his name, not a spelling error) in their escape attempt from Grimm's forces. Part of the appeal of this book, as with most in this style, is seeing how different fairy tale characters have been rewritten or adapted. Hansel and Gretel get a look-in towards the end of this issue, for example, and it made me laugh out loud. If you're keen, you can also buy the hardcover French-style edition of this book, which collects both halves in the one volume. (4/5)

47 Ronin #3
Dark Horse. Written by Mike Richardson. Art by Stan Sakai.
This stunning and lyrical adaptation continues to do no wrong. It's a delight: a direct, thoughtful script by Mike Richardson, and beautiful pastel-coloured and alluringly simple artwork by Stan Sakai. It's become very obvious to me that this is going to wind up being one of the best American comic books of 2013. The visuals have a high degree of historical accuracy, and each issue has been accompanied by interviews with the key creatives on the book. I really hope they keep the interviews in the trade paperback, whenever that is released, because they add a huge amount of value. (5/5)

Great Pacific #5
Image Comics. Written by Joe Harris. Art by Martin Morazzo.
Gosh this comic's getting weird. Our protagonist Chas Worthington is now troubled by the United States military, pirates chasing nuclear materials, unexpected tribes of spear-throwing dissidents and a giant octopus, all complicated his idealistic plans to settle on and slowly convert the Pacific Ocean gyre. This is a very solid issue, although I'm feeling like the book as a whole is going to work better in trade paperback form. I'm particularly liking Zoe, the book's female co-star who seems a bit more interesting than the star. (3/5)

Green Lantern #18
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Szymon Kudranski, Ardian Syaf and Mike Irwin.
Szymon Kudranski provides some stellar artwork to this issue: it really is the best artwork Green Lantern has had in years. It also really suits this issue's setting: in his attempt to rescue Hal Jordan and Sinestro, Simon Baz had wound up dead as well, and now all three are trapped inside the shadowy world of the Black Hand. It's nice to see Simon and Hal finally meet: I still wish they'd focus this book more on Simon than Hal in the coming months, but it's been made clear by DC that this won't be the case. It's a pity - like I've been saying, he's so much more interesting. (4/5)

Human Bomb #4
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Jerry Ordway.
Human Bomb ends how it started: a little old-fashioned, a little unadventurous, but broadly entertaining and enjoyable. It finishes with an expected segue into a Freedom Fighters relaunch, although given how poorly this and other Freedom Fighters miniseries have sold I'm not sure how enthused DC will be about proceeding. One of the real delights of this miniseries has been Jerry Ordway's art. DC or Marvel need to get him on a regular book as soon as possible, or he needs to set off on a Kickstarter or something. (3/5)

Red She-Hulk #63
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker.
Betty and Machine Man are on the run from the United States military and SHIELD across the USA while hunting for a missing girl and following a trail left for Betty by Nikola Tesla. This is a stunning issue. It combines drama and intrigue with a lot of well-placed humour, as well as providing a look at the Marvel Universe through the eyes of its news media. It's a deep shame that this book is not selling very well, because it's one of the best titles of the Marvel Now relaunch. Sure Red She-Hulk is a silly name for a character with a ridiculous premise, but Jeff Parker is absolutely making it work. Sadly this issue doesn't deliver a She-Hulk/Red She-Hulk meeting, as promised last issue, but it does give us SHIELD Director Maria Hill. That's a consolation I can live with. (5/5)

Sex #1
Image Comics. Written by Joe Casey. Art by Piotr Kowalski.
A former superhero returns to a hi-tech city and goes to a strip club. I really wanted to get more out of this comic than I did: Image has been on fire lately with a string of excellent science fiction books, and I hoped that this one would be a provocative new addition to their line-up. It may improve, but for now it's just boring. The "sex" angle feels like a gimmick to score some attention, although it may be backfiring: Apple are refusing to allow it to be sold via their network, so for Comixology users this title is Android and PC only. (2/5)

Stormwatch #18
DC Comics. Written by Peter Milligan. Art by Will Conrad.
In this issue the Stormwatch team continue their in-fighting as- no, really, that's all they do in this comic. This one feels like it could easily be the last issue of Stormwatch ever, which makes me wonder if that was actually the plan and instead it's been given a last-minute reprieve for some reason. I'm still a bit weirded out by Apollo and Midnighter. They were created as obvious rip-offs of Superman and Batman who happened to be gay, but while that worked fine when they were off in their own meta-textual, post-modern superhero book at Wildstorm, it feels remarkably strange having them over in the same universe as Supes and Bats. (2/5)

Worlds' Finest #10
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by George Perez, Carlos Urbano, Yildiray Cinar and Phil Jiminez.
It's funny that in Detective Comics, which stars Batman, the aftermath of Damian Wayne's death feels tacked on and forced, whereas in Worlds' Finest, which doesn't star Batman, the aftermath feels well-placed, organically developed and absolutely heartbreaking. The recent two-part guest appearance by Damian in this book had a visible effect on Helena - they were brother and sister via parallel universes, and after losing both her parents it was a sudden chance to make a familial connection: now that chance is lost as well. This book made a great connection between the Huntress and Robin - a connection that's now severed. I really hope Paul Levitz takes the opportunity for Helena to now connect with Bruce Wayne himself, since it looks like they could do with each other's support. (4/5)

Winner of the Week: If you're not reading 47 Ronin, you're missing out on one of the best books of the year.
Loser of the Week:  Oh Animal Man, why? Why?!

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