May 3, 2013

The Pull List: 1 May 2013

DC's first big New 52 crossover is on the horizon: Trinity War. As part of the marketing build-up, a few choice quotes from writer Geoff Johns have demonstrated pretty much exactly why a lot of the New 52 simply isn't working.

Johns says: 'The thing about Wonder Woman and Superman is when their relationship ends, it's going to end badly. There is no good way for this one to end. And then there's other concerns. When those two start acting out together, people get nervous. Not because they don't think they're heroes, but because they have such incredible power, and who could stop those two?'

How can a relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman end badly? They're pretty much the two nicest, most honourable people in the entire DC Universe. They're as good-hearted, honest and level-headed as they come. A break-up between Wonder Woman and Superman would almost certainly be a mature conversation and a hug, not an all-out line-wide conflict requiring the Justice League and Justice League of America to go to war.

This is a textbook example of warping your characters to fit your story, rather than finding your story through your characters. It's the reason that Justice League is such an awful book at the moment. It is, DC Comics, the reason why we can't have nice things.

Under the cut: reviews of Action Comics, Age of Ultron, All New X-Men, Aquaman, Batwing, Detective Comics, 47 Ronin, Hawkeye, The Movement, Red She-Hulk, Stormwatch, Ten Grand, Worlds' Finest and X-Men Legacy.

Action Comics #20
DC Comics. Written by Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel. Art by Tony Daniel and Matt Banning.
It's actually slightly jarring to shift from 19 issues of Grant Morrison's time-travelling inter-dimensional complexity to what is simply an exceptionally tightly written and drawn Superman adventure with an alien creature that's sucking up Superman's powers. This isn't going to win any awards for originality, and readers who aren't already fans of Superman aren't going to be convinced to change their minds, but it's a very strong and enjoyable read. I love the brutally cruel and self-centered version of Lex Luthor that Diggle and Daniel are writing. (4/5)

Age of Ultron #7
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco and Roger Martinez.
So (it's been a few weeks, so I'm guessing I can spoil it) at the end of the last issue Sue Storm stood by while Wolverine brutally murdered Hank Pym (aka Ant Man) in order to prevent the creation of Ultron in the first place. So far so good... except that it was Hank who averted the Skrull-Kree War from being waged on Earth, so when they return to the present everything has changed all over again. Now Skrull and Kree wreckage litters the Savage Land, while New York appears to be ruled over by Tony Stark and an army of flying robots. This whole issue was a twist I did not see coming, and it's leaving me with a lot more questions than answers. Issue #8 can't come soon enough. (5/5)

All New X-Men #11
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger.
Brian Bendis must really be liking time travel at the moment, because of course that remains the narrative thrust of All New X-Men. In this issue, one member of the original X-Men team switches sides because he/she doesn't want to live the future that he/she has seen. Jean Grey continues to struggle to control her growing powers. The Midwitch Cuckoos continue to be awesome (yet another Grant Morrison creation that's run and run). Like all Bendis comics the pace is a little slow, but the characterisation and a complex story benefit from that. (4/5)

Aquaman #19
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons.
It's quite a refreshing change to see Aquaman actually spending much of his time underwater and hanging out with people from Atlantis. In isolation this issue isn't particularly exceptional - although it is still very enjoyable. What I'm appreciating at the moment is that Geoff Johns is building a strong set of supporting characters into this book. I honestly think this is what makes a book thrive in the long-term. I know I criticised him quite harshly in this week's introduction, but when his writing works it really works a lot - I just wish the consistency he's brought to this book could have been brought to Justice League as well. (3/5)

Batwing #20
DC Comics. Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Fabrizio Fiorentino.
This issue sees the debut of new Batwing Luke Fox, as he replaces David Zavimbe as the "Batman of Africa". It's about as well-written and presented as the previous version of Batwing; to be honest this isn't a case of being better or worse, but simply more of the same. Certainly I can't see it saving the book from cancellation by the end of the year. There's also a slightly unpleasant vibe about using Luke Fox - a rich, educated American - instead of the African-born former child soldier Zavimbe. The book even acknowledges it a little, with Fox challenging Batman that the only reason he's wanted for Batwing is because he's black, but it still doesn't sit right. I also liked David Zavimbe, and Luke Fox is going to have to go a fair way to make me think bringing him in was a good idea. (2/5)

Detective Comics #20
DC Comics. Written by John Layman. Art by Jason Fabok.
John Lawman's opening arc wraps up in a neat but fairly satisfying fashion. His use of the Penguin has been excellent: he's a very difficult character to write correctly, and his fall from power over recent issues has been brilliantly presented. I'm less sure about Ogilvy, the self-proclaimed "Emperor Penguin" who overthrew Cobblepot and took over his criminal enterprise. It seems clear that Layman is intent on creating a new villain for the Batman franchise, but with his first story now complete it's difficult to see what his hook is. (4/5)

47 Ronin #4
Dark Horse. Written by Mike Richardson. Art by Stan Sakai.
Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai are creating an all-time classic here: this book is perfectly produced, with fantastic writing and beautiful artwork. This is the fourth issue in a row to get five stars from me, and the book keeps scoring top marks for a reason. It is going to be very hard for something else to come along and unseat this as my top book of the year: and I'm saying that in May for crying out loud. In this issue the pieces all begin to line up in a row for the story's devastating conclusion (not that I've seen issue #5 yet, but I do know the story of the 47 ronin and it does not end peacefully). The character work is profound in this issue, and the period detail remains extraordinarily impressive. (5/5)

Hawkeye #10
Marvel Comics. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by Francesco Francavilla.
This issue, featuring guest art by Francesco Francavilla, feels like a fill-in. I have no proof or indication that it is, but it fills in a bit of character and plot before teasing itself seamlessly into the climax of Hawkeye #9. It's good character detail, and beautifully drawn by Francavilla, but there's still that lingering feeling that we've all somehow been short-changed just a little bit. There was an awful sense of going over the edge of a cliff at the end of last issue, and instead of letting us fall headlong down into whatever's next, it's like Fraction reversed a little before driving over the cliff after all. (3/5)

The Movement #1
DC Comics. Written by Gail Simone. Art by Freddie E. Williams II.
Good on DC for attempting to launch some genuinely new properties with the New 52, and even better that this latest one is written by Gail Simone. This has a wonderful premise: a group of super-powered individuals have banded together to challenge the corrupt police of an American city, bringing with them the entire population of one particularly downtrodden suburb. Their use of sleek, creepy masks when challenging authority is great: not only does it grant them a sinister sort of anonymity, it's also nicely reminiscent of the climax to V for Vendetta. It also has a particularly dark tone, something that Simone is rather brilliant at. Williams' artwork is nice too. I applaud DC for launching this as a $2.99 book without a backup as well: that sort of thing is pretty much what killed the likes of Threshold and Sword of Sorcery in their tracks. (4/5)

Red She-Hulk #65
Marvel Comics. Written by Jeff Parker. Art by Carlo Pagulayan.
I wasn't as big a fan of this issue as I was of the previous ones. A lot of time is spent throwing Red She-Hulk and Machine Man into a trap that simulates a whole string of famous Marvel villains - except of course we know from the outset that they're just simulations so it all feels a bit like a waste of time. She-Hulk (the green one) does get a bit of action in this one, and I'm very happy to see her turn up properly at last - she's one of Marvel's most criminally underused characters at the moment. (2/5)

Stormwatch #20
DC Comics. Written by Jim Starlin. Art by Yvel Guichet and Jonas Trindale.
I actually intended to cancel my subscription to this book, and then clearly forgot because I discovered it with my order on Wednesday. I've also since read an interview with Jim Starlin in which he confirmed that this isn't a temporary fix: he's completely rebooted Stormwatch for good, so not only were the original 19 issues of the comic rather circular and pointless, they now effectively never happened either. By some strange creative miracle, however, this issue was actually rather good. The characters feel a lot more interesting, the storyline progresses nicely, and it's all rather enjoyable to read. Plus Lobo is in it. Well played, Mr Starlin, my subscription to this book can hang on for another few months at least. (3/5)

Ten Grand #1
Image Comics. Written by J. Michael Straczynski. Art by Ben Templesmith.
On the one hand this book features art by Australia's own Ben Templesmith, and I absolutely adore his work - particularly his lush, atmospheric colouring. On the other hand it's written by J. Michael Straczynski, who - despite being an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and the creator of a popular television series - has yet to impress me at all with his comic writing abilities. So how does it go in the end? Pretty much as you might expect. The art is beautiful and expresses the tone of the story perfectly. The premise is great: a dead hitman whose wife was murdered gets to fight evil on the condition that when he inevitably (and horribly) dies, he gets five minutes with his wife in heaven before being sent back to Earth to continue endlessly fighting. The script is more problematic. Like a lot of Straczynski's work it's highly derivative, while somehow managing to reek smugness at the same time. It's also woefully over-reliant on narration, which gives it a hard-boiled detective feel that jars with the savage, edgy tone of the plot and the art. It's worth checking out if you love Templesmith and miss Fell (the style is very similar), but is otherwise fairly missable. (2/5)

Worlds' Finest #12
DC Comics. Written by Paul Levitz. Art by Kevin Maguire and Geraldo Borges.
Unless I wasn't paying attention, Power Girl has just randomly reverted to her pre-New 52 costume in this issue. I'm not complaining, per se; when drawn properly it works just fine, but it was a bit of a weird moment to suddenly realise that she had changed back to the old version. While Power Girl goes retro, New Gods villain Desaad gets a complete makeover, turning him into less of a hooded cackling old man and more into a dessicated, undead monster. It's a good, fearsome look for the character, who never really worked for me back in the old days. (3/5)

X-Men Legacy #10
Marvel Comics. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Paul Davidson.
David Haller finally ventures into his own subconscious to confront the mysterious intelligence hiding there - one that may or may not be his father, Charles Xavier. I like how this issue ties in a lot of plot stuff from the previous nine issues: this is certainly very much a long, complex storyline that Spurrier is writing, and while the individual issues remain highly entertaining it's rapidly becoming clear that it's in the long-term that this book is really going to pay off. Another element of this book I really love is Mike Del Mundo's hilarious series of covers. They're funny, strange, and beautifully composed. (4/5)

Winner of the Week: 47 Ronin. Buy this book.
Loser of the Week: Once again this is a week without a real loser. Certainly Ten Grand was the weakest of the books I read, but it wasn't bad.

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