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Secret Origins #1 – Review

By: Greg Pak, Kyle Higgins, and Tony Bedard (writers); Lee Weeks, Doug Mahnke, and Paulo Siqueira (pencils), Sandra Hope, Lee Weeks, Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, and Hi-Fi (inks), Dave McCaig, John Kalisz, and Hi-Fi (colors)

The Review: When the New 52 launched two and a half years ago two of the biggest complaints I remember hearing were the disinterest in seeing the heroes’ origins replayed once again and the surprise and outrage when the comics did not provide origin stories. People were expecting new The Man of Steel’s and Batman: Year Ones. The fans wanted to see how their icons had changed, what justified this new continuity, while others worried that new readers would struggle without the origin stories.

Well, it certainly took them long enough, but the release of Secret Origins #1 this week finally answers those concerns.

For an impressive $5.00 price tag, readers get three twelve-page stories from the writers currently handling the characters. I’m not sure that such a hefty price will endear this series to new or lapsed comic readers, but I suppose what really matters is how well it justifies that price point.

The first story, quite appropriately, is Superman’s, penned by Action Comics and Batman/Superman scribe Greg Pak. While there isn’t that much changed from the traditional tale of Krypton’s demise, and certainly nothing secret, Pak’s tale sets itself apart through its perspective. Written from the point of view of Superman’s two moms – wouldn’t that have been an interesting twist? – Pak creates a believable, non-sappy story that pins down the essential value of our ‘Man of Tomorrow’ as love.

Given that Pak is handling the part of the story that Clark can’t tell himself, I think it was a very wise choice to focus on Martha Kent and Lara Van-El. Particularly with Man of Steel still fresh in our minds, and the original Superman (1978) before it, it’s not hard to make the argument that Jor-El has often eclipsed his fellow Kryptonians, and occasionally even his son. Likewise, I think that many stories spend a lot of time focused on Jonathan Kent in Clark’s boyhood. By focusing on the women in Clark’s life, Pak presents a new look at this classic tale.
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Avengers Undercover #3 – Review

By: Dennis Hopeless (Writer), Timothy Green II (Artist), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (Color Artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Francesco Mattina (Cover Artist)

The Story: Revenge is a dish best served with gratuitous violence and radiation blasts.

The Review: That cover! Interestingly, the title logo is in the lower third, and the Marvel brand logo all the way on the bottom. More interestingly, the words “game over” overshadow the title logo, of which the words “Avengers” are the smallest of all. It’s rare to have copy/blurb, title, and logo in nearly opposite ratio to each other from what we expect. Perhaps it speaks to what’s inside in a more metaphorical way: this is a comic where traditions are inverted, expectations are reversed, and anything might happen.

The art inside, however, maintains a mix of great and not-so-great expectations. There are many good elements, including key panels that use the depth of field in background/foreground very expertly, and colors that are amazingly vibrant and textured/gradated (especially in the depictions of superpowers.) However, there is a bit of 90s aesthetic to Green’s art, such as an overuse of thin lines and hash marks, and a similarity of faces and clothing choice that can often lead to confusion between characters. Perhaps accordingly, there are even a few lapses of basic anatomy and the facial expressions fail to exhibit a range of expression. The attempt to integrate a flashback scene was not integrated well.

There’s enough goodness here to compensate, though. In particular, a double page spread of Arcade being attacked, and the full splash page of Hazmat’s final answer to their archenemy. These moments are effective too because they perfectly culminate the tension and tone that’s been building. The characters argue among themselves, amid the confusion and trauma of their experiences, but it’s balanced well with the action that is both in the background (in Arcade’s latest iteration of the Murder World theme) and in the forefront (as the characters work together on two fronts to face down Arcade himself.)
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Fantastic Four #3 – Review

By: James Robinson (Writer), Leonard Kirk (Artist), Karl Kesel (Inker), Jesus Aburtov (Colors), VC’s Clayton Cowles (Letterer), John Romita Jr., Tom Palmer, Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story:
If a Human Torch is de-powered and no one is really bothered, does it make a sound?

The Review:
Well, OK. That was… dense. By that, I mean there was a lot going on in this issue. But by that, I mean there was a lot of expository dialogue, usually between pairs of characters, and usually which served either to talk about things that have already happened or things that might happen later. So I have another riddle in addition to my one-sentence summary above– If everything is subplot, do you even have a story?

All the scenes in this issue are in essence the same– characters explain themselves to other characters in order to tick off a plot point. Valeria has left with Doom. Sue visits an underwater refuge with the FF school and Namor looks sad. The Puppet Master looks like he’s ready to start another plot he tried before in the 1960s. The Frightful Four show up, except that it’s pretty much the Wrecking Crew, here to cause some property damage.

The main through-line is the follow-up from last issue, and Reed explains that Johnny burned out his powers. However, to summarize Johnny’s response: “Oh. That sucks. Well, see ya later,” which allows him to continue through the issue like another subplot.

I’ll give credit that Robinson is expressly aiming for a new take on one of Reed’s classic dilemmas: how can a man that’s so smart not be able to solve the problem of his best friend trapped in the form of The Thing? Whereas the Thing cannot be de-powered, Johnny may not be able to be re-powered. What’s next? The exciting tale of “This Man– This Mortal?”

I hold hope that we are on track for an interesting character arc, if Robinson truly manages to invert the formula with this story while keeping all the heavy-handed, and frankly, more interesting angst of its predecessor. There are some hints towards this direction, but so far, there don’t seem to be any great impact on the characters or opportunities to build supon the FF mythos in general or, more largely, to explore what it means to be a hero.
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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S01E19 – Review

By: Monica Owusu-Breen (story)

The Story: In which the penny drops for Skye.

The Review: And here you thought that breaking up S.H.I.E.L.D. would take us away from the baddie-of-the-week procedural format that’s stifled the series since day one. Look, the team was always going to get back to tracking down superpowered threats eventually, but you would’ve thought we’d get a break on that while Hydra remains the outstanding threat. Unfortunately, the Fridge’s breach means the team has to worry about the newly freed criminals on top of everything else.

I should mention this excursion to take down Marcus Daniels* seems to be a momentary distraction. Thank goodness, because the purely formulaic qualities of the plotline remind you why S.H.I.E.L.D. suffered so much in the early episodes: Daniels’ total lack of development and the by-the-numbers tactic to defeat him. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of seeing energy absorbers defeated by overloading, and the fact that the team uses the same exact same strategy that apparently brought him down before (only bigger!) makes the plot even more yawn-worthy.
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WCBR’s Top Picks

Best From The Past Week: American Vampire #2This was a great issue.  I loved how Snyder and Albuquerque aren’t screwing around with an entire story cycle of recap for new readers.  They’ve just flung us right into the deep end of this story about The Grey Trader.  This guy is creepy looking!  And there is still a bundle of mystery about who he is and what he’s up to.  It’ll be a great ride.

Most Anticipated This Week: 

1. The Walking Dead #126 – I am so curious to see how this issue turns out.  It isn’t just that I’m curious to see what becomes of this Rick/Negan battle, but I’m very curious to see whether Robert Kirkman will take this opportunity to do something bold.  TWD is not a fresh, new comic anymore; its about the same age the X-Men were when the Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past came out.  This story is a chance to turn things on it’s ear and go off in a very new direction,or he can continue with the status quo and watch TWD turn into the Big 2 superhero comics where nothing ever changes because the underlying characters are too valuable to kill.  Kirkman has talked a good game for 10 years about the majesty of independent comics giving better opportunities to creators to tell their stories.  He’s talked the talk…..let’s see if he can walk the walk.  The easiest way to mix it up would be to kill Rick, but Kirkman is a creative guy.  He can probably come up with something else.  It just can’t be another stanza of Rick & Co. looking for shelter.

2. Lazarus #8 – This will almost certainly be a better comic than TWD #126 and it probably deserves top billing, but TWD just has that must-watch factor that isn’t necessarily associated with expected quality.  Now that Lazarus is 8 issues in, it’s probably safe to say that it is my favorite new series of the last few years.  What I love about Lazarus is how meticulous Greg Rucka is about EVERYTHING.  There is never a moment in Lazarus where I’m distracted by the mechanics of how something works the way I occasionally wonder how zombies can be so decayed, but still strong.  I never have that feeling with Lazarus because Rucka has done his homework and anticipated my questions before I could even conceive them.

3. Sheltered #8 – I like how quickly this story is boiling.  On one hand, I really love the premise for Sheltered and enjoy reading it.  But it probably doesn’t need to be a 100-issue epic and it’s nice to see the creators getting on with things.  They’ll tell this story in 15-25 issues and it’ll be a nice, tight tale.

4. Uber #11 – I wish I had a little more time to write reviews, because this series is sneaky good and deserves more attention.  I’m not a huge fan of the art, but the story is really hot stuff if you’re a military history fan.  The last issue ended with one of the German supersoldiers getting crashed into London on a supposed suicide mission.  We’ve actually come to care about this supersolider and don’t like how she’s been used by the Nazi’s.  Kinda grim if she get’s killed in bloody fashion.

- Dean Stell

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #4 – Review

By: Mike Carey (script), Peter Gross (art), Ryan Kelly (selected finishes), Chris Chuckry (colors) and Todd Klein (letters)

The Story: Tom goes into storyland to find a possible ally.

Review (with SPOILERS): Geez….I really don’t know what to make of this issue.  By that I mean, I literally don’t understand what happened.

The main focus of the issue was on Tom Taylor dreamwalking his way into a Tommy Taylor form and visiting Madam Rausch.  Of course, I understood the surface layer of things in that Tom was there to recruit Rausch as an ally in his war against Pullman and that she may or may not help them, but then things became murky for me.  Rausch has been a recurring character in The Unwritten for a very long time, but this issue made me reevaluate her character in a different way.  I’ve always thought of Rausch as being similar to Wilson Taylor in that she was a gifted storyteller who did her work with puppets whereas Wilson was a writer.

But to be honest, I never thought of Rausch that deeply before.  She was just always “there” in the story as a quasi-villain.  Whereas Pullman is obviously the embodiment of the “Original Sin” story and Leviathan (i.e. humanity’s collective consciousness) loves that story to the detriment of all else in the world, I always thought Rausch was just an antagonist.  Hmm… I’ll have to revisit her because it seems there is a LOT more to her character than I’ve appreciated before.
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Ghost #3 – Review

By: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Chris Sebela (story), Geraldo Borges (pencils), Andy Owens (inks), Dan Jackson (colors)

The Story: Well, if a demon possession doesn’t ruin your childhood memories, nothing will.

The Review: While a new series that starts with a B- is not doomed by any means, it’s definitely not a good sign of things to come. Presumably, the first issue calls for the creative team to put their best feet forward, with the idea that they might have to take a few steps back later on. When the first issue fails to inspire, as Ghost #1 did, it places a burden on the creators to rev up their game the next time around instead of slowing down to a coast. Unfortunately, #2
didn’t do that, either.

That leaves this issue in a bad spot, having to meet the near-impossible task of making up for the deficiencies of its predecessors. To cut to the chase, it fails. Nearly every weakness that’s sprouted in the last two issues simply takes deeper root here, starting with our protagonist. In terms of likability or any kind of relatable quality, Elisa is simply untouchable, and not just because she’s literally untouchable, though this is a problem as well.
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