November 15, 2012

The Pull List: 14 November 2012

Marvel published four first issues this week, as their Marvel Now initiative finally begins to kick up some heat and start moving. I can see the reasoning behind relaunching their superhero titles the way that they have: firstly, spread over several months it gives them a high-profile launch nearly every week from here to February; secondly, it allows them to avoid copying DC entirely. Let's not pretend otherwise, Marvel Now is a panicky relaunch, cobbled together with great haste after DC's own cobbled-together relaunch resulted in Marvel losing market share.

It does make me question the point of comic book numbering. If the industry is so reliant on issue #1 being a sales-boosting 'jumping-on' point, why on Earth would any publish worth their salt allow a comic book series to extend beyond it's 12th issue? Why not relaunch the books every year? Or with every change of creative team? While I may be nostalgic for the old days of comic books with numbers up into the mid-100s, I have to admit it's a lot easier to convince me to try issue #3 or #4 than issue #573 or #228. Titles such as Marvel's Journey to Mystery, which has been knocking it out of the park in the last year, mostly floated under the radar because unless you were paying close attention you'd fail to notice it. Had it been launched at #1 under the title Loki, I think they might have found more success.

When Hellblazer and The Amazing Spider-Man wrap up, the longest running single volume still in publication between Marvel and DC will be Bill Willingham's Fables. That just blows my mind.

Under the cut: reviews of All-New X-Men, Batgirl, Batman, Batman and Robin, Demon Knights, Fantastic Four, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, The Massive, Red She-Hulk, Saga, Thor: God of Thunder and X-Men Legacy.

All-New X-Men #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen.
Brian Michael Bendis has been the architect of Marvel's Avengers line of comics for something like a decade, earning him no small amount of acclaim and popularity. This month he jumps ship, leaving Captain America and friends in the hands of fresh writers while tackling the X-Men instead. Advance publicity has already spoiled this first issue's major surprise - that the comic features the original X-Men of the 1960s meeting their present-day counterparts - but what it hasn't spoiled is the reason why, the identity of the one who arranges the meet, as well as a whole pile of story set-up and backstory. Bendis is setting up a lot more than a time-travel story here: we're getting an all-new supporting cast of mutants, a vastly changed status quo for the existing characters, and a rich, multi-layered story that will (knowing Bendis) run on for years to come. This is a rare ground-floor opportunity to pick up an X-Men comic, and quite frankly it's the best one I've read since Grant Morrison's New X-Men some years ago. (5/5)

Batgirl #14
DC Comics. Written by Gail Simone. Art by Ed Benes, Daniel Sampere, Vicente Cifuentes and Mark Irwin.
I foolishly didn't pre-order Batgirl #13 last month, and as a "Death of the Family" tie-in it sold out before I could get to a comic shop. It was a very good conclusion to a story arc, and had I reviewed it here I'd have given it four out of five. This is coincidentally what this new issue gets. The Joker is back, bringing back all of Barbara Gordon's traumatic memories of The Killing Joke. This time, however, she's stronger, harder, and perfectly prepared to strike back. Gail Simone has done a great job of getting inside Barbara's head in this series - I'm usually not a big fan of narration in comics, but by focusing on emotion rather than exposition, Simone has absolutely made it work. The cliffhanger came from left of field, but I suppose that's the Joker's raison d'etre. I have no idea how it's going to be resolved, though. (4/5)

Batman #14
DC Comics. Written by Scott Snyder. Art by Greg Capullo.
I was slightly underwhelmed with last month's much-hyped opening to "Death of the Family". This second part is a massive step up in quality. Snyder's Joker is unhinged, unpredictable and terrifying. He's hitting Batman right where it hurts, and Batman is running into trap after pitfall despite telling his companions that it is exactly what they all shouldn't do. It's generally hard for contemporary writers to make the Joker scary - he's turned up and been defeated so many times he's lost his edge. By rebooting the DC Universe, however, this essentially affords us a new "first look" at the character. I'm still not convinced by the silly strapped-on face, but that's an element left for Snyder by Tony Daniel's pointlessly gory first issue of Detective Comics. This is, once again, a phenomenally satisfying Batman comic. (5/5)

Batman and Robin #14
DC Comics. Written by Peter J. Tomasi. Art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray.
Robin versus zombies. Can I leave it there? Oh, okay then. Gotham continues to be overrun by citizens going inexplicably bonkers and cannibalistic. While Batman desperately searches for Robin on the surface, Robin has gone radio-silent, deliberately captured by cultists and taken - he hopes - to the mastermind of the whole affiar. What this issue does that I love is it allows Bruce Wayne to have a moment of clarity - this isn't just another kid sidekick in a chain of sidekicks. Damian is his son, and Damian's cavalier attitude to his own safety may just lead Bruce to bench him for his own good. Never a five-star comic, Batman and Robin nonetheless continues to be one of the most consistently good superhero comics on the market. (4/5)

Demon Knights #14
DC Comics. Written by Paul Cornell. Art by Bernard Chang.
All of the plot threads of Paul Cornell's fantasy superhero story are drawing together, and I think we're headed for a pretty satisfying conclusion. The team is united again, and all of their enemies are closing in on Avalon. I've really enjoyed this comic, although to be honest with sales not going well (about 16,000 copies from memory, which is definitely cancellation territory) and with Cornell about to leave as writer, I kind of wish DC would let the title end with his departure. I think cancellation is pretty inevitable for Demon Knights, and it'd be nice to see them go out on a creative high than get one more story arc with a new writer before the book gets cancelled anyway. (4/5)

Fantastic Four #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by Mark Bagley.
Oh I really loathe the Fantastic Four. I simply don't respond to their creaky "happy families" vibe, or their lack of internal conflict, or their cheerful boundless optimism. They've always struck me as remaining a prominent aspect of Marvel Comics because they've been around for decades, not because they're particularly entertaining or relevant. Reed Richards in particular is a hideously dull and unreadable character. This relaunch, however, is written by Matt Fraction, one of Marvel's best writers working today. If anyone can make me interested in the Fantastic Four, it's Fraction. Sadly even quality writing and art can't save them from being superhero publishing's most boring heroes. This isn't a badly written comic, and it isn't badly drawn, but I simply can't give a shit. If you are a Fantastic Four fan, and I'm assuming from the sales figures there are a good few tens of thousands out there, you might love this to bits. I don't. (2/5)

Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE #14
DC Comics. Written by Matt Kindt. Art by Alberto Ponticelli and Wayne Faucher.
Frankenstein's "Rotworld" tie in continues. One of the things I love about the DC Universe is that if a character manages to get enough traction, they usually survive quite happily after their own title gets cancelled. This month Frankenstein joins Justice League Dark, and I'm pretty sure he's been a strong enough presence in the New 52 to pretty much guarantee he hangs around other characters' titles for years to come. And that makes me glad. This issue, pretty much the best thing to come out of the "Rotworld" arc (in this, Animal Man and Swamp Thing), Frank gets to beat up a string of giant monsters. Sometimes that's all you want from a comic book. (3/5)

The Massive #6
Dark Horse. Written by Brian Wood. Art by Gary Brown.
With food supplies running critically low, the crew of the Kapital take a chance on raiding a British cargo carrier. The ship should be free of crew, but (surprise!) it isn't. Action onboard deck is matched with a series of flashbacks that fill in the backgrounds and motivation for first mate Mag. Of the three instalments of this current story, I like this final one the best. It seems more dramatic and better paced than the others. While I have enjoyed the first two arcs of The Massive, one of which introduced the set-up and the other of which introduced the cast. Now I want to see the plot really start moving forward: six issues really is the limit for introductions. I want to see the crew of the Kapital do something. (4/5)

Red She-Hulk #59
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Art by Carlo Pagulayan
Switching Hulk over to Red She-Hulk seems to have worked for Marvel - sales boosted from about 21,500 for General Ross' final issue up to 31,100 for his daughter Betty's debut (although much of that may be over-shipping). Her first issue didn't exactly grab me, but this second part - featuring a chase between the Red She-Hulk and Machine Man (Flash Fact: he's a character created by Jack Kirby in a 2001: A Space Odyssey tie-in) and a showdown with half of the Avengers - is much better. There's a lot to recommend in this one. Good art, a fast-moving plot, tantalising bits of plot dangled in front of the reader, wall-to-wall action, and more. I particularly loved how seamlessly the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel fits in alongside Iron Man, Thor and Captain America - Marvel Studios and Joss Whedon should take note of that. So congratulations to Parker and Pagulayan, you have me hooked. I just wish there was a more elegant name for this character and comic than Red She-Hulk. She's not a character in her own right, she's a spin-off of a spin-off. No wonder Machine Man fits right in. (4/5)

Saga #7
Image Comics. Written by Brian K. Vaughn. Art by Fiona Staples.
Saga returns from its brief hiatus, reminding me how much I adore this comic. I know we've still got a month and a half before the year ends, but I'm feeling reasonably comfortable in declaring this the best new comic of 2012. It's such an effortless combination of science fiction and fantasy, packed with humorous detail and serious drama, small little tender moments and massive big ideas on a broad canvas. This issue introduces the in-laws to the equation, which is not something Luke Skywalker ever had to worry about over in his space opera. Marko and his mother go hunting on a nearby planetoid, while Alana is left on the tree ship with Marko's father. Oh, and if you haven't been following this book, Marko and Alana come from warring species - and Marko's parents really, really hate Alana's people. And Marko and Alana have a baby daughter. Fun times. (5/5)

Thor: God of Thunder #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Esad Ribic.
This is a brilliant comic. First up is Esad Ribic's artwork, which is perfectly suited to the mythological backdrop of Thor and beautiful to look at. Then there's Jason Aaron's script, which is cleverly split across three time periods - and three corresponding ages of Thor's life. It's a testament to the clarity of Aaron's writing that this never becomes confusing. I've also never seen the idea of gods walking around the Marvel Universe expressed in such a clear and believable fashion. Between this and All-Star X-Men, Marvel finally have some quality relaunches on their hands. I was beginning to get worried. (5/5)

X-Men Legacy #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Tan Eng Huat.
David Haller is one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. He is also mentally unwell. He is also Charles Xavier's son. And Xavier has just been murdered by one of his own former students. I am missing a lot of context for this book: action jumps between an interdimensional prison and a retreat somewhere in the Indian Himalayas. Despite this uncertainty over what exactly is going on, I found myself drawn to the series' protagonist, and the potential for a powerful mutant who is not emotionally or mentally stable. It's an intriguing opening chapter; not a must-read, but interesting enough to make me want to read the second issue and find out what's going on. (3/5)

Winner of the week: All-Star X-Men #1 is the first genuinely brilliant new title of Marvel Now. Thor: God of Thunder is the second. Both are winners in my book.
Loser of the week: Fantastic Four #1. Sorry, I just don't get their appeal.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on All-New X Men. One of the best comics I've read for a while. Made me very excited to see where Bendis takes them.


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