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Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #10 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Rafael (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: The Pirate Queen of Mars, Part 5 of 5, “The Death That Creeps Within the Ice”: Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium and Phandari the renegade Pirate Queen of Mars are on the run from the bigger pirates. It’s like Terminator where the damned pursuer will just not die….

The Review: This is the second of two sword and planet books I picked up from Dynamite this week (see my review of Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist #3 for the other) and adventure is something that Dynamite is working hard at nailing every time. Dynamite brings some beautiful artists to pencil the work of writers who have done the work to soak themselves not just in the geographic and plot details of these classic science fictional worlds, but in the tone and feel of the originals. Dejah Thoris reads like one of the Barsoomian adventures of her son Carthoris, in Burroughs’ original series (minus the romance, of course). The enemy are vile and repugnant and the heroes are beautiful and human. The dangers are many and the twists and turns of the plot keep coming. This does mean that some of the emotional content of the book is given very little, if any, space, but to some extent, I didn’t come to Barsoom to be moved by the human condition or blown away by sophisticated, theme-based plots. I came for the sword play and super-science. I stayed for the radium pistols and air ships. This book is unashamedly cast in the mold of Barsoom, with the skills and talents of today.
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Flash Gordon – Zeitgeist #3 – Review

By: Eric Trautmann (plot and script), Alex Ross (plot and art direction), Daniel Indro and Ron Adrian (art), Slamet Mujiono (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor)

Chapter Three: The Monsters of Mongo: Flash, recently escaped with an assist from the luscious Princess Aura, is shot down in the territory on the lion men. Pursuing agents: should we use surgical strike? Ming: no, make it messy. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Adolph is getting some military aid from old Merciless. Hail Ming!

What’s Good: This is one of two sword and planet titles I’ve picked up from Dynamite this week (see Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #10, for the other). Sword and planet is a fun, escapist form (well, let’s face it, the whole comics medium is an escapist form, but this is more escapist than say, the street level crime of the Kingpin or something). Ross and Trautmann make full use of its conventions. We’ve got alluring evil princesses, quick getaways, strange moons with dangerous aliens, an empire full of goons, all lead by an implacable tyrant. Our hero is daring, truehearted and consummately dangerous, and he’s setting his sights on the bad guy. This is swashbuckling adventure for adventure’s sake, modernized with better tech and science, but at its core, beats a heart of pulp.
The art by Indro and Adrian under the direction of Ross is awesome. I love the draftsmanship and especially the close attention to facial expression, and the shadow and texture required to make it real. The castles and moons and trees and ships and other costumes are evocatively alien, and basically, it is a fiesta for the eyes.
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Captain America #8 – Review

By: Ed Brubaker (writer), Alan Davis (penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Laura Martin (colorist)

The Story: Powerless, Part 3: Cap and Sharon manage to eke out a victory in a tough fight with the Serpent Squad only for Cap to lose his powers once again. Why? Who’s behind this? Sharon has one theory and the investigation leads her to the Machinesmith. In the meantime, the Hydra Queen makes several moves. It’s all going pear-shaped.

The Review: I have been a big Davis/Farmer fan since the 80s and absolutely loved them here. Davis is at once a master of draftsmanship, with elegant, detailed faces with close-up texturing. At the same time, he knows his way around a superhero fight, with varied panel structures and camera angles, with quicker and more stylized shapes to focus the reader’s eye on the dynamism as opposed to the detail. A great example of this is on the first page. Cap as the center of the action has the most detail, but it is clearly the composition doing the work here. Check out the stances and angles, the V-shape made by Cap’s leg with the Eel’s, the detail-free Sharon in an uber-energetic Kirby-esque pose. The page radiates energy. Then in the next couple of pages, the close-ups of Cap and Sharon’s faces are wonderfully detailed, emotive and lifelike, in the way a Neal Adams face comes alive. The other artistic roots I felt while reading this book was Mike Zeck. Zeck defined the Captain America for several years and I almost felt Zeck’s great style being channeled in this book, but better.

Storywise, it’s hard to go wrong with Brubaker. His name on the top of the credits virtually guarantees that you’ll be treated as an intelligent reader. Moreover, he’s so good at the thriller and the espionage motifs, which are so much a part of Cap’s WWII and cold-war mythos, that the intrigue and layered mystery pulls the story towards a climax you know is going to be good. The dialogue is crisp and believable (insofar as some villains have to have a bit of an over-the-top style to them) and the plot twists are great. I loved the Cobra interrogation scene and Sharon’s next steps, and I was eating up the Hydra Queen moves.
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X-Factor #231 – Review

By: Peter David (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (penciller), Guillermo Ortego (inker), Matt Milla (colorist)

The Story: “They Keep Killing Madrox”, Part 3: Jamie continues his jaunt through parallel universes. In this issue, he finds quite a different world with a surprising twist related to a major Marvel event. It is, however, nothing more for him than jumping from frying pan to frying pan.

What’s Good: One of my week’s books is some weird time travel (Avengers Academy), and another is jumping through parallel universes (this one). Both parallel universes and time travel are standard science fiction fare because there’s so much a writer can do with these ideas, and because the artist gets to give goatees to normally clean-shaven characters. The charm of this X-Factor arc is the visiting the paths not taken. The tragedy of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in this book stuck to the inside of my mind even after I was done reading. Those were two heroes (villains?) carrying heavy ghosts. Jamie’s monologue carried us effectively through this new reality as a kind of guide to hell.
Artwise, Emanuela Lupacchino, ably assisted by Ortego and Milla, laid down some fine pages. I loved the view of the Iron Man-Sentinels taking off into a ravaged red sky. The environments were very evocative. The characters were effectively drawn, although not show-stoppingly so in the beauty of their depiction. When the involvement of Wanda hits Madrox, I think this is the most expressive and emotive artistic moment of the book, in part because the rest of the emotions were guarded as characters tried to figure each other out. My favourite artistic moment of the book, however, was when Strange turns around.
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Warlord of Mars Annual #1 – Review

By: Mark Rahner (writer), Stephen Sadowski (illustrator), Adriano Lucas (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: “Shell Shock”: After some sparring, John Carter and Tars Tarkas, two old warriors who have become best friends, go over a tale from Tars Tarkas’s past, one that took place just before Carter arrived on Barsoom.

The Review: It is very hard to capture the mood of Barsoom with an economy of words. The pulp tradition, born in the baroque written style of the late Victorian, is part of the charm. This was the first thing that struck me in this book. It is a story told by Tars Tarkas, so it marches in his reflective, expository style. At first, being so different from the post-Hemingway, post-Frank Miller styles of writing, it took a bit to switch gears and accustom myself to the different rhythm of story-telling. Once I was there, I was delighted, feeling like I’d immersed myself in an unearthed Burroughs tale. The story intrigued in that we open a window into the notoriously closed Thark Jeddak and see what he and Carter interpret first as a mid-life crisis, but slowly revealed itself as a philosophical angst that laid the emotional groundwork for the friendship the now exists between Carter and Tarkas. The narrative drive is powered by a crime and a mystery, with social tensions, but the heart of the story is emotional and satisfying. The icing on the cake for me was the end of the story, with the moment of laughter between the two good and great friends, one that I got to share in too.
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Captain America and Bucky #625 – Review

By: James Asmus and Ed Brubaker (story), James Asmus (script), Francesco Francavilla (artist)

The Story: The first replacement Bucky, the one who took over with the replacement Cap in 1945, is an old man now, telling stories on the veteran circuit, when something from the past comes back to haunt him. Assemble the real Cap, the original Human Torch and the grandson of the first replacement Cap, each one with his own link to the mystery. The sleuthing is on.

The Review: I happen to be reading One Hundred Years of Solitude right now, with its cycling, psychological time, so what I noticed about this story right away is how much time is a subjective, psychological element. Between sentences and within sentences, the narrative toggled between time periods which blended past and present in a way that seemed almost surreal. It was quite a cool literary effect. I was drawn to replacement Bucky right away by the kind of humility, pain and uncertainty that oozes from his narrative and his memories. As an aside, this is also one of those rare books where there are actually a lot of words to read, mostly dialogue and all of it effective and natural. This makes the book experience longer, which, in this age, seems to be more value to me.
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Warlord of Mars #14 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Edgar Salazar (artist), Marcelo Pinto (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: The Gods of Mars Part Two: The Black Pirates: John Carter and Tars Tarkas meet Thuvia, formerly a prisoner of the predatory Therns. They use her special talent to try to break out of the valley of death, and no sooner make a good run for it, than run into the people who prey on the Therns, the Black Pirates of Mars.

The Review: Wow! Salazar’s artwork was astonishingly fresh and vital. Just the composition of the splash page alone, complemented by fine detail, and beautiful colors, totally blew me away. Check out the way Tars tarkas is standing. This is the most realistic balancing I have seen for a Thark outside of a Michael Whelan cover. And the fine lines and detailed draftsmanship were just beautiful to pause over, throughout the book. The detail in the accoutrements of the characters were awesome, like the leather strapping of Tarkas’ wrists, the clothing and jewelry on the princess of the Therns, the expressions throughout, but especially on the Dator Xodar’s face near the end. I can and should go on about Salazar’s art, especially the banths, the Thern architecture and the external sets. The action sequences were dynamic and clear and Tars Tarkas, winded after holding off the banths was worth a thousand words. And this is all said without even mentioning the excellent color work of Marcelo Pinto, who made the red Martians closer to what I’d always pictured and who brought the banths and the Valley Dor to life, while bringing a lurid, bloody tinge to the Barsoomian twilight.
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