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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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Daredevil #7 – Review

By: Mark Waid (writer), Paolo Rivera (penciller), Joe Rivera (inker), Javier Rodriguez (color artist)

The Story: It’s Christmas and Matt is struggling to turn a corner in his life, away from the tortured, guilt-ridden man he has been for so long. A group of kids he is mentoring gives him a kick in the pants. Before you stop reading, this issue was totally cheese-free!

The Review: This was a little gem of an issue, containing a complete disaster story. Waid starts us in media res, with Matt (as a blind adult, and arguably uncertain about himself) taking a bunch of low-confidence blind kids on a Christmas field trip, when an accident occurs. The bus driver is dead, and DD’s radar sense is pretty much useless in a snowstorm in the forest. So, it’s back to basics and character. It’s a beautiful dramatic set-up that carries honest peril, and forces different people to draw on what makes them heroes in the first place, powers or not. DD, while super-heroic, is shown some common heroism, which is a pretty strong kick in the pants to his own personal problems. Although Waid doesn’t show if Matt changes his life outlook, there is no doubt that what happens in this issue can be a platform for helping him get back on an even keel. Waid does this all with an economy of honest dialogue and monologue narrative, although the key elements of the character change can not be said to be hidden.
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Avengers: X-Sanction #1 – Review

By: Jeph Loeb (writer), Ed McGuinness (pencils), Dexter Vines (inks), Morry Hollowell(colors)

The Story: The Avengers are dealing with a prison break from the Raft when one of their number is split off from the pack and captured by Cable.

The Review: In any series, it is important for the writer to find a story that fits with the nature of the hero. Batman hunts psychotic killers in nighttime Gotham. Thor’s best stories involve the intersection of Norse myth and the real world. Cable is a time-traveling refugee from a future of extreme mutant persecution. And he only comes in badass flavor. So this story, about Cable trying once again to avert a terrible future by changing the past is great grist for this mill.

In this case, it looks like Cable has got to off the Avengers. What’s cool in this story? The very far future with his friend Blaquesmith and their discussion of what happened. It echoed some of the feel of 13 Monkeys. What wasn’t so cool? I followed some of the Hope saga and I get that Cable misses being a dad to Hope, but the writing on this was a bit heavy-handed. Also, the very strong hints (by Blaquesmith and Captain America) that Cable isn’t playing with a full deck really cut the feet out from under this story. A story of conflicting choices, each option with its ethical costs, is the best kind of story. The set-up here with Cable being not-quite-right-in-the-head cheapens the conflict and points to a resolution of “well, he got better now…whew!” I hope I’m wrong.

On art, McGuiness and Vines laid down some fine pencils that suggested different flavors at different times. The opening double-splash felt a bit like the work of Grummett. Later on, especially when Cap was running on the deck of the ship, it had a tinge of Art Adams. This is not to say that McGuinness doesn’t have a style of his own. I just liked some of the resonances my read got me. His style is detailed enough to keep me interested and clear enough to tell an action-filled story.

Aside: Is it me or has the Avengers turned into an all-guy team?

Conclusion: Action and adventure, but this series isn’t going to reshape the comic field or anything. Cable fans may rejoice that he’s got 4 issues of center stage time. Fighting the Avengers is going to be pretty hard and he has some history with more than one.

Grade: C

-DS Arsenault

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Silver Star #2 – Review

By: Jai Nitz (writer), Alex Ross (art direction and story), Johnny Desjardins (art), Vinicius Andrade (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor)

The Story: Silver Star regroups and starts looking for Norma. He explains the gravity of the situation to his new psychologist, through a series of flashbacks.

The Review: On visuals, I thought Desjardins was a fine artist who did some nice work in bringing some Kirby special effects to life, as well as the corpse of the giant kraken that had attacked them. The layouts were effective and drew the eye across the page on the paneled pages and especially on the collage-like double splash of the flashbacks. Some of the facials were a bit rough, but others were evocative. This occasional unevenness did not detract from my enjoyment of the story, as other elements, like scenery and Silver Star himself were cool to look at.
Writing and story caused me more problems. Anyone who has followed my reviews for a while knows I’m a Jai Nitz fan. I thought he did something magical with the narrative voice in Kato: Origins, while also bringing a real-world resonance to the stories, in terms of racism, crime, the ghosts that we carry with us, and the ghosts that we acquire. Unfortunately, that same inspiration and subtlety didn’t get to the table in Silver Star.
Comics is a medium of stewarding brands and characters and universes, of protecting or rejecting history, and expanding the fields that future writers can till. A writer can, without consequence, create a crime book, a horror book, a fantasy book or a sci-fi book without a sense of deep history or vast community. But in superhero books, the deep history has become a convention. Arch-villains become arch because they keep coming back. The first time they are just bad guys in funny suits. The vast community has also become a convention in superhero books. Heroes fight villain #1 on Monday, villain #2 of Wednesday, and team up with another hero on Thursday, and each character brings their history and baggage to the conflict. I think the hardest thing to do in the superhero genre is create a new hero and a new world out of whole cloth. We’ve seen so many origins that it is difficult to find anything fresh. We’ve seen so many motivations that they mostly appear trite or cliché, unless you bought into them as a kid. What writers can do when put in the bind of creating a new world is to deeply personalize the hero. Engage the reader powerfully in the humanity of the hero.
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Warlord of Mars #13 – Review

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

The Story: The Gods of Mars, Part 1: John Carter has been gone from Mars for 10 years. When he is finally able to return, he is in a lush, jungle environment, unlike the deserts he knew. And finds strange plant creatures attacking friends he once knew.

The Review: Right off, the visuals were awesome. This is Edgar Salazar’s first turn on Dynamite’s Barsoom, and he is very well assisted by Maxflan Araujo on colors. Salazar’s world is beautifully detailed. The opening page and following double splash page are arresting. The combination of distant mountain top forts, wide lawns edged by blue trees and an ocean make a scene that is strangely haunting. The skill of the colorist really makes itself obvious on the double splash where he has constructed a play of primary colors that fit beautifully together and draw the eye to the blues, which are the strangest to us, and point to Carter’s danger. Carter and Tars Tarkas are heroically drawn and I love Salazar’s pencil-gray shading instead of the usual black. It’s a bit of seeing the puppet strings, and the construction of the art, which layers in more texture.

Storywise, Nelson is working with a hit with Burroughs’ second Barsoom novel “The Gods of Mars”. Burroughs never wasted any time in throwing his heroes into the fire and Nelson doesn’t either. Readers unfamiliar with the Barsoom canon will have to hang on, but this is a good roller coaster to get aboard. The action, danger, spills and mysteries will keep any adventure reader satisfied.

Conclusion: OK. So, no secret. I love this series and I loved this issue. The visuals are beautiful. The adventure is breakneck. Pick it up.

Grade: A-

-DS Arsenault

 

Flash Gordon – Zeitgeist #1 – Review

By: Eric Trautmann (writer), Alex Ross (plotting and art direction), Daniel Indro (illustrator), Slamet Mujiono (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Alex Raymond (creator)

The Story: Ming the Merciless is looking for fun on a Friday night. Earth is handily in his cross-hairs. The Earth of 1934 reacts with confusion to the super-technology attacking them that manifests as natural disasters. Everyone except Dr. Hans Zarkov. And by coincidence, Flash Gordon, emissary of the President of the USA, and Dale Arden, cartographer, happen to be with him as he is blasting towards Mongo.

What Was Good: Right out of the gates, I have to declare that I grew up on Filmation’s Flash Gordon cartoons as a kid, so obviously I’m coming from a pulpy place of love for sword and planet adventures. Although this is early in the story, I could already see Trautmann assembling the pieces that make Flash Gordon fun. These are: (1) the terrifying Ming and his fragile empire, (2) Flash, the brave, classic hero, (3) Dale, the damsel-love interest, (4) Zarkov, the scientist ally, and (5) the servants of the emperor, but not necessarily loyally so. Ross and Trautmann also pulled in some elements that promise to give this story a theme or gravitas that the pulp original did not have. The addition of the Third Reich and Hitler say a lot about the kind story this is going to be and the foils and thematic contrasts that will be offered. All that being said, this issue was only the inciting incident. The real story begins in issue #2.

Artwise, I was delighted. Indro was a bit quirky, but I found myself liking the way he exaggerates certain elements (Zarkov, for example), cleaves close to traditional styles for heroics (Flash and Dale), while pursuing very modern takes on villainy (Ming and his entourage). All of it was well done and the detail in the 1930s tech was wonderful, right down to the fraying piece of tape labeling a switch in Zarkov’s laboratory.
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Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom #4 – Review

By: Robert Place Napton (writer), Roberto Castro (illustrator), Alex Guimaraes (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (inspirer)

The Story: General Van Tun Bor makes some hard choices about what kind of man he is and how far he can follow the Jeddak of Horz. In the meantime, the Jeddak is sponsoring some lurid biotech through his cannibal mad scientist. And, the great scientist Tak Nan Lee reaches a crossroads not that different from the General’s.

The Review: Napton had pretty firm control of the plotting, emotional moments and the reveals in this issue. All parts of the story were competently done, but some shone. For example, although the wistful sense of loss associated with a dying planet had been communicated in many ways, both in words and pictures, in the first three issues of this series, Napton nailed me with a powerful, personal, emotional moment with General Van Tun Bor. The immediacy, intimacy and suddenness of Barsoom’s fall was surprising. The Jeddak’s arrogance and Bor’s struggle, as well as Tak Nan Lee’s were well developed, with the growing sense of tension as the Jeddak started making his moves. The other powerful emotional high of the book was the passing of the symbolic and thematic torch from white man to red woman. Very well done. The story is now set to conclude.
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Dejah Thoris #8 – Review

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

The Story: When we last left Dejah Thoris and her unlikely ally, the Pirate Queen of Mars, they were trapped in the clutches of dangerous cannibals.

**Warning: Very minor spoiler, that anyone ought to have guessed**

The Review: On art, Rafael and Lopez continue to deliver beautiful visuals, whether it be the great flying battleships of Barsoom, the radium pistols, the Tharks or the stars of this arc. Since Dejah Thoris #1, Rafael has demonstrated a deft hand for the expressions necessary for Nelson’s story. Faces are mobile and flexible, registering surprise, fear, determination and confusion so Nelson doesn’t have to. It’s pointless to choose one or two exemplary visuals for the review, since cover to cover, the beauty and clarity of the art is quite high.

Storywise, as a sophisticated, modern reader, I was at first nonplussed by the way Dejah Thoris and her de facto allies escaped from the kitchens of the pirate warship. It was mildly convenient storytelling and did not hinge on the decisions or actions of Dejah Thoris, but on that looney assassin who’d been tracking Dejah since Helium. But then, I thought about it, and realized that this is exactly how Burroughs would have engineered this escape. In the classic pulp tradition, small, fast heroes with quick wits and great initiative always beat out the bad guys. In this case, the hidden knife from Dejah Thoris #7 was used to surprise their captors. The escape also included a tense moment with the big villain, where again, an extrinsic factor (in this case, true Deus ex machina) saved the day and put off the final showdown with the pirate leader. Both of these plot devices harken from a less sophisticated age of storytelling and fit totally within the conventions of pulp fiction. So, while it is not cutting-edge literature, the Dejah Thoris series is a breathing homage to the pulp tradition that Dynamite is reviving. And the last half of the story was the icing on the cake of a good pulp story in the midst of Act Two: the set up for a race for a lost treasure, perhaps cursed, shrouded in legend.

Conclusion: More and more, Dynamite is drawing on classic pulp tropes to build a new pulp tradition. Tune into Dejah Thoris for classic sword and planet adventure, riding on pirate themes, rascally allies and grostesque villains.

Grade: B

-DS Arsenault

 

X-Men #21 – Review

By: Victor Gischler (writer), Will Conrad (artist), Chris Sotomayor (colorist)

The Story: Storm and Colossus sort out their differences with War Machine, as circumstances shift. There is stuff afoot in Puternicstan. But, will they be able to save Domino?

The Review: I don’t recall having seen Will Conrad’s work before, but I love it. His Colossus is powerful, big and intimidating. His War Machine is efficient and professional. His Storm is smart and attractive. Moreover, the Eastern European world of ex-Soviet countries is evocative and even the weather does its job with him at the pen (check out War Machine and Colossus surprised by the war jets for what I’m saying about moody weather). The colors are equally clean, evocative, and fall into narrow palettes in the half-light and darkness that pervades most of this issue. Check out the color scope when the covert team gets a little too much company. The blue shades, purples and grays blend beautifully and that kind of color subtly is at play throughout the issue.
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DS’ Top Picks

Best of the Past Week: Ghost Rider #5 –Ghost Rider is a character that keeps teasing on the edge of my radar, and when they made a new, female Ghost Rider, my first thought was that this was a marketing-driven creative decision. I tuned into GR #5 this week and to my delight, I think they found the right creative team and the right angle to make this Alejandra Ghost Rider work. Best of the past week.

Most Anticipated: Severed #4 – Although I loved the art of Carbon Grey and am really looking forward to this new effort, the moodiness of Severed has my undivided attention.

Other Top Picks: Carbon Grey Origins #1 (of 2), Thunderbolts #165.

Ghost Rider #5 – Review

By: Rob Williams (writer), Lee Garbett (artist), Rob Schwager (colorist), Sebastian Girner (editor)

The Story: Now free of the control of Adam, Alejandra has to figure out what to do with herself and her curse. Her wordless conversation and grudgingly-given trust to the demon Zarathos begins to define what she is now that she is a free agent.

The Review: This book was a smooth, supernatural ride. I loved the overt plotline of Alejandra seeking herself through the new mentor Zarathos, with whom she cannot speak. She can only follow his lead and trust that where he brings her, their interests overlap. Beneath this relationship is the metaphorical undercurrent of how we make decisions and how we define ourselves, especially at the beginning of adulthood. We all carry angels and demons in us, and we rarely understand exactly what they say or why they do, and we can only trust that when following those urges, that we may be arriving at a good place. Layered over all of this is Alejandra’s more conscious perception of who she is as a person defined by her adoption, and as a spirit of vengeance defined by her the mandate of her curse. It’s too early yet in this series to tell whether Alejandra is a reliable narrator or not. Narrators may lie to us and they may also be wrong about the world and themselves, so Alejandra’s engaging monologue carries that uncertainly. In the end, this stand-alone issue was not about Alejandra defeating some over powerful foe, but about finding her footing under the informal mentorship of Zarathos.
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Silver Star #1 – Review

By: Jai Nitz (story and script), Alex Ross (art direction and story), Johnny Desjardins (artist), Vinicius Andrade (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Jack Kirby (concepts and characters)

The Story: This issue, spun out of Dynamite’s Kirby Genesis series, follows the story of Silver Star, a US super-powered asset in an alternate history that branches from ours sometime in the late Vietnam War.

The Review: Nitz and Ross have a ton of work to do in this first issue. They’ve got to introduce the characters, make us care about them, intrigue us with their world and launch the conflict. Slowing this down (as in the first act of any story) is the exposition and showing the character “in his normal day.” Luckily, Silver Star’s days are not normal. He seems to live in covert international conflicts. Nitz and Ross let Desjardins and Andrade do the heavy lifting on the “day in the life” exposition and the action and sets are more than enough to keep the reader turning the pages. What I found more intriguing was the interlaced Presidential Orders through history and tracking against my (admittedly Canadian) knowledge of US presidents to see where the turning points happened and where history changed. Despite all this, I didn’t feel that by the end of the story that I cared about Silver Star. A first act, day-in-the-life start (prior to the introduction of the conflict) makes for a passive main character. A character in action does not equal an active character. I don’t fault Nitz and Ross for this. It looks like they’ve risked a slower-paced start to properly launch a long arc, so the amount of stuff that has to go in issue one crowds out some of the gripping stuff.
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Warlord of Mars #12 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Stephen Sadowski (illustrator), Shane Rooks (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: Heretics of Mars, Part 3: Using his father’s talent for telepathy, Carthoris has discovered a second amulet of the kind worn by the caretaker of the great atmospheric factory that keeps Mars habitable. When he and tars Tarkas realize where it must have come from, they realize that someone is in great danger and Carthoris must save them.

The Review: I am now totally wrapped up in the intrigue and character of this 3-issue spacer between A Princess of Mars and Gods of Mars. It took me until the second issue to realize that this arc is a story about Carthoris and I love Dynamite’s vision of him. He is not yet the assured young warrior prince man who will later heroically rescue the love of his life, Thuvia of Ptarth. He is in the first blush of independence from his mother, quick with a sword, but controlling his anger and impatience with difficulty. It’s a thin line for a writer to walk to write a teenager well, but Carthoris is heroic and uncertain and unwise, while showing the seeds of the greatness he will eventually grow into. Kudos to Nelson for making such a sympathetic character that we’re still happy to see get slapped around by Tars Tarkas when he needs it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Sola playing the role of the fool in this story, but I think if the audience Dynamite is aiming for is not necessarily people who have read Barsoom before, it should work. By the same token, after having seen Dejah Thoris in the driver’s seat in Napton’s series, her more standard role as damsel in distress feels a bit underused.
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Thor: The Deviants Saga #1 – Review

By: Rob Rodi (writer), Stephen Segovia (penciller), Jason Paz (inker), Andy Troy (colorist)

The Story: Ereshkigal, an uncommonly ancient deviant (of the Eternal-Human-Deviant triangle created by Jack Kirby in his Eternals #1 of 1977) is scavenging about the ruins of Asgard for some device that might help her get back into power in the Deviant state, which is in the grips of a devastating plague. Thor arrives, unimpressed with this burglar.

What’s Good: I very much enjoyed the Segovia-Paz-Troy team-up. The visuals were clear, detailed and well-composed. Segovia and Paz used varying camera angles and the lines of the figures to really command the eye to different parts of the panels or the page (in the case of the splashes). By example, I’d like to mention the point of view on Thor’s arrival, and the micro-struggle between Ereshkigal and Thor that follows. Troy’s palette choices supported this. Check out the double and single splash pages to see how he did this. The details in the draftsmanship were evocative and I especially liked the pyramidal structure in Asgard that Odin and Thor were standing on. As a bit of a quibble, I should say that this looked Meso-American, rather than Viking, in style and that the defenses on the vault looked more like something out of Lovecraft than the Icelandic Sagas. But, stylistic points aside I did enjoy the art.
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Journey Into Mystery #630 – Review

By: Kieron Gillen (writer), Richard Elson (artist), Jessica Kholinne of IFS (colors), John Denning (assistant editor), Lauren Sankovitch (editor)

The Story: As the great battle event Fear Itself played across the Marvel Universe, Volstagg seemed to be MIA. Where was he? This issue tells us and gives a bit of emotional perspective on the Fear Itself event from a couple of key participants.

The Review: This issue is half buddy picture (Loki and Volstagg) and half Asgardian Uncle Buck (Volstagg) played by John Candy at his best. Heimdall opens the book saying “Asgard’s greatest weapon, the missing Destroyer, is brought back by its thieves.” Who would do that? Enter Loki and Volstagg, playing the classic fat-guy/skinny-guy dynamic with the secrets they both have to hide after the death of Thor and the end of Fear Itself. The amount of personality in the writing and in the art between these two is awesome. Loki is a natural scene stealer (aren’t most trickster gods?) and his efforts to get Volstagg out of a hole are heroically comic. And streetwise, affable Volstagg gets to be the responsible one of the two and deliver some great emotional moments that readers need to ease out of the Fear Itself event. However powerful that first scene, it is Volstagg’s homecoming which ends up stealing the heart of the issue, with what he tells his children, his wife and himself about what has happened. Multiple reveals. Multiple emotional hits for the reader. Multiple moments of growth for different characters. Good story-telling

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Warlord of Mars #11 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Stephen Sadowski (artist), Shane Rooks (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: Carthoris and Tars Tarkas are in it deep as they are shot down by the Warhoon. And Dejah Thoris is trying to puzzle through the mystery of who framed John Carter while navigating the intrigue between the Jeddak of Zodanga and the Hekkador of the Therns.

What’s Good: OK, by the second part of this three-part arc, I’m really digging the story. I like the mystery of the planted amulet, the steward’s death, the murder of the atmosphere plant worker, the madness of the other, and the slow, suggestive reveal of the Therns and Zodangans. I get that this is a set-up arc, to bridge the last few months of that ten years while Carter is back on Earth, and I’m good with that. I love seeing both Dejah and Carthoris in action, especially the son. He’s a character with obvious growth to do, and a lot to prove and that’s fun. I also loved the telepathy he’s got. Quite cool.

Artwise, I’m enjoying Sadowski’s work on the Tharks, the thoats, the atmosphere factory, the mad keeper, and Tars Tarkas. Sadowski’s Tharks are much larger than Lui Antonio’s and match more closely Roberto Castro’s (which themselves are closer to the green men Burroughs described as engines of destruction). I also enjoyed the newer designs of the Heliumite fliers, complete with stirrups, but my favorite visuals were Carthoris. Sadowski’s young, driven, conflicted hero works for me.

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Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #7 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (illustrations), Carlos Lopez (colors), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator), Joseph Rybandt (editor)

The Story: The Pirate Queen of Mars, Part 2: Dejah Thoris, on a mission of mercy to the south pole, has been captured by the Phondari, a dark-skinned pirate captain, supposedly from one of Mars’ moons. It turns out that Phondari’s impressive ship is much, much smaller than the one chasing her, and now Dejah Thoris is caught in the middle.

The Review: Nelson’s exploration of Barsoom’s different races, their politics, culture and mores, is a ton of fun. And while the setting and characters are fresh to modern eyes, he’s following one of the classic pulp structures of being captured by unkown pirates. It doesn’t matter that here, the seas happen to be the skies above dusty Mars. Nelson is channeling the sense of adventure and excitement the pulps did so well. I enjoyed the careless, ne’er do well character of Phondari and the rising tension as the pirate ship is attacked. I also enjoyed the no-nonsense, take-charge attitude of Dejah Thoris. In Warlord of Mars #10, I had noticed that she was a bit passive, which is closer to the role Burroughs had envisioned for her (damsel in distress, face that launched a thousand ships), but I have to say, after seven issues of watching her in her own title, I now prefer this handy-with-a-sword, young go-getter. I liked Xen Brega, the big pirate captain, and will only note that, with so many writers in so many books striving to rapidly characterize their villains as the most heinous monsters in history, cannibalism is eventually going to lose its impact and become part of the splatterporn background of every villain. And although Dynamite (pulp adventure) and Image (psychological horror) are going for different effects, it’s worth comparing the execution of cannibalism in Dejah Thoris #7 to the cannibalism in Severed #3.

Artwise, Rafael and Lopez continue to lay down beautiful visuals. Dejah Thoris, Phondari, Xen Brega, and the secondary cast were all attractive, with clean lines and subtle coloring. For a while, I was a bit disoriented with the colors used on Phondari, because first I thought she was of a new Martian race (from one of the moons), but the dialogue had suggested she was of the black race of Barsoom, so then I had to revisit and compare colors and see where the range of the palette might be for that race on Mars that Burroughs introduced in his second Martian book, The Gods of Mars. None of this is bad. I don’t mind when the reader has to do more work. The most impressive visuals for me though, were the two pirate ships. I loved the designs and their similarities, and especially of the shot of Phondari’s ship being brought into Xen Brega’s. Impressive demonstration of scale.

Conclusion: Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris is exploring Barsoom in Burroughs’ classic style. Well, well worth checking out.

Grade: B

-DS Arsenault

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Severed #3 – Review

By: Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft (writers), Attila Futaki (artist)

The Story: Jack and his cross-dressing friend start making their way to Louisiana by busking, using Jack’s violin playing. Then they run into Victor the Travelling Phonograph Salesman, version 2.0. He invites them to his apartment and starts feeding them liquor and playing bear trap games.

Review: It’s probably best to review this book in the context of the two that have come before and the four that will come after. We began with a framing narrative of an old man with one arm missing, and old man who was hiding the truth about how he’d lost his arm. Go back in time and we follow Jack and, in parallel, an orphan boy. Jack is exposed to the creepy, disturbed dangers of travelling unprotected. The orphan boy is partially eaten. Will the cannibal eat Jack’s arm? The story looked simpler in issue #2. Then, in this issue, they meet Victor, and Snyder and Scott really show that they know how to create suspense and sustain it. Throughout the meal, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. And the waiting turned into a cringe when the bear trap came out. I mean, WTF? I’ve maybe become desensitized to psychotics while reading Gotham books for the last two years, but Victor 2.0 brought in a whole new creepy, one that is as powerful in its way as the best of Grant Morrison’s early issues of Batman and Robin. Yet the tension in Severed is much more taut. There’s just not enough to be said about the writing of Severed as a perfectly paced, perfectly controlled story.
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Warlord of Mars #10 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Stephen Sadowski (artist), Shane Rooks (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: In the time since John Carter has gone back to Earth, Barsoom mourns his loss and a son has been born to him. The Zodangans and the Therns seem to be hanging about with Dejah Thoris on their minds, when an assassin tries to kill her.

What’s Good: However much I loved Dynamite’s Princess of Mars adaptation (the first nine issues of this series), I’m pleased that it is done so that I can be transported to places and situations on Barsoom that I have not seen before (as Nelson and Napton are taking us). The new Zodangans (ever the rascally enemies of Helium) and the religion of the Therns are such situations. The plotting and counter-plotting has my interest and this issue did what a starting book in an arc should do, which is launch a story with enough momentum to get the reader to want to follow the arc. Artwise, Sadowski brought some different visions to the series. His pyramids and the lair of the Therns were intriguing, as was the hurtling flight of Carthoris and Tars Tarkas across the Martian wastes.

What’s Not So Good: I miss Lui Antonio. We really got spoiled by his beautiful art. Sadowski is certainly a competent artist, but the style change for the series feels drastic. The style is darker and scratchier and more realistic (as opposed to heroic and grand). Dejah Thoris is not the woman whose beauty has started wars, but is simply a woman. Tardos Mors does not seem to be the commanding figure that has ruled the twin cities for five centuries, but simply a man. Even the Zodangans, so beautifully portrayed in previous issues with heroic figures and short brush cuts are now lanky, long-haired figures whose postures seem sniveling compared to those admirable warriors who committed suicide to signal surrender to Heliumite forces. Additionally, whereas I felt that Antonio cleaved pretty closely to Burroughs’ original vision of a largely nudist society, Sadowski through more clothing onto the figures, which seems to me stylistically closer the later stories in Burroughs’ Mars series. I don’t mind which style Dynamite picks (the pulp covers always went with clothed figures), but the sum of the stylistic differences in the art was jarring.

Conclusion: As a hard-core Barsoom fan, I’m going to continue with the series, but the art switch really got me down. Hopefully, Sadowski grows on me. Or they bring back Antonio. Recommended for people like me.

Grade: C

-DS Arsenault

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