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The Shadow #1 – Review

By: Garth Ennis (writer), Aaron Campbell (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist)

The Story: It seems The Shadow isn’t the only one who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, as he is joined by none other than Garth Ennis in a new ongoing series.

The Review: It’s hard not to admire the pulp heroes of old. In the absence of optic blasts that could reduce mountains to powder, or Kryptonian DNA capable of absorbing solar radiation and turning a child into a demigod, the Pulps put themselves in harm’s way and did what they could to fight the Good Fight using the means available to them. They were, at best, Optimized Men, talented individuals that represented the pinnacle of human achievement, but still men and quite capable of being killed in their self-appointed line of duty. And on some level I’ve always identified with that. I think it’s largely why I’ve always preferred reading titles like Batman, Daredevil, and Punisher over more epically-scaled books like Superman, Justice League, and X-Men; the latter don’t deal with the likelihood of death nearly as often as the former, and I’d argue it takes a real Hero to willingly put himself in mortal danger like that and still fight on. This quality is what made the pulp heroes so appealing to me as a kid, so when I first read that Garth Ennis would be redefining one of the great pulp heroes of all time, I was excited to see what the creator of Crossed, Hitman, and Preacher would do with such an icon of the industry. The result, I’m pleased to report, is more than I expected and hugely promising.
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Wolverine #4 – Second Review

By Jason Aaron (writer), Renato Guedes (artist), Jose Wilson Magalhaes & Oclair Albert (inkers), Matthew Wilson (colorist)

The Story: Wolverine’s still in Hell. Still fighting the Devil. Still crying about all the pain and suffering he’s inflicted over the years. Meanwhile, his body is still on Earth. Still possessed by a demon. Still running around killing all of Logan’s friends and loved ones. But hey, at least Puck’s to fuck shit up.

The Good: After last month’s issue, I knew this month would ultimately define my appreciation of Aaron’s inaugural storyline. There were some good moments this month, such as Logan’s homage to “300“ during his climatic fight with the Devil, Puck leading his army of the damned in revolt, or the revelation of Puck’s mysterious accomplice. I’m glad that, after four months, all Hell is, literally, breaking loose, even if it seems to have come a tad bit late since next month’s issue will (mercifully) end this story. I continue to enjoy Guedes’s art and the surreal style he brings to Logan’s jaunt through Hell, but I question how well his style will carry over to more traditional superhero stories.

The Not So Good: What started out as an incredibly promising story has since devolved into an exercise in mediocrity by an incredibly talented writer. Seriously, we’ve been at this story for four months now, and beyond this endless, uninteresting battle between Logan and the Devil, what’s actually happened!? Practically nothing, in my opinion. Every issue has followed this formula of Wolverine melodramatically crying about how he deserves damnation for the atrocities he committed in Life, the Devil torturing Logan and trying to break his spirit, and his demon-possessed body walking the Earth killing Logan’s friends.

I have no doubt Aaron’s original pitch for this story was probably an entertaining read, but the final product is leaving much to be desired. Here we have a story that takes place in Hell, a setting that should have given Aaron and Guedes that rare, creative opportunity to build and define their vision of the Underworld from the ground up, but for some inexplicable reason they instead chose to keep Logan and the Devil locked in this non-descript, poorly colored cave. To me, that’s about as interesting as reading a copy of Dante’s Inferno that never got out of the first circle of Hell. I’ve been disappointed with this story’s lack of ambition and vision; every time I wanted Aaron to push the envelope and truly disturb me with visions of Marvel’s most fearsome killer being tortured in the heart of Hell, he simply gave me more of the same melodrama and blandness that turned me off the character and the book years ago.

With this issue, I realized that Guedes’s art is only as good as the quality of his inkers. Personally, I believe his art looks best when the inks are light, allowing the linework and colors to take center stage. To appreciate this stark contrast, take a look at that beautiful, double-page of Wolverine’s “I believe in Hell” fight with the Devil and then compare that to the final pages of Sabretooth defying the Devil and Puck leading his revolt before conferring with Logan’s acquaintance and you’ll see the difference. Which style of inks you prefer is, of course, at your discretion, but to see both within the same comic was a disappointing and distracting experience for me

Conclusion: This storyline hasn’t quite entertained me and it hasn’t quite given me new insight into Wolverine’s character and measure as a man. So far, it’s been a very routine and unspectacular story, and that’s incredibly disappointing to say about an otherwise solid creative team. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ll be buying this comic for much longer. Something needs to change, and soon.

Grade: D

-Tony Rakittke

For our  first review, click here.


Thunderbolts #150 – Review

By Jeff Parker (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank Martin & Fabio D’Auria (colorists)

The Story: The Thunderbolts celebrate 150 issues this month with a tale that finds the team’s heavy-hitters taking on none other than Thor, Commander Rogers, and Iron Man in a brutal grudge match in another dimension.

The Good: After an incredibly disappointing crossover into the equally disappointing Shadowlands storyline, I am thrilled to welcome Kev Walker back and see that Thunderbolts is once again revved up and firing on all cylinders. I’m even willing to forgive him for leaving us high and dry for two months if it meant he was working on this beautiful slab of entertainment all the while. Walker continues to set the standard of quality at Marvel with art that is crisp and expressive as it is unique and wonderful to look at. When I saw his opening panel of Thor, Iron Man, and Commander Rogers, I’d wished to God that Marvel would let him illustrate all of Marvel’s Avengers comics, his illustrations were so dynamic and powerful. Putting it bluntly, the man can draw the shit out of a comic page and the longer he stays on this comic the better we will all be for it.

Parker continues to prove that he is the right man for this job, and he has truly crafted this disparate team into a unique fighting force that I can’t help but like. Reading this issue, I couldn’t help but be reminded of movies like The Dirty Dozen and the strange joy I felt watching a group of utter bastards come to respect each other and learn to work together if not for the Greater Good, then certainly to spite Authority. The rogue in me respects that more about this team than previous iterations, and Parker draws that quality out of the them with great skill and gusto.
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Hulk #27 – Review

By Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman (artist), Bettie Breitweiser (colorist)

The Story: Under the guidance and supervision of Commander Rogers and Bruce Banner, General Ross continues his quest for redemption by helping Namor put an end to a Scorched Earth initiative that threatens to destroy the monarch’s empire.

The Good: Ever since Parker took control of this book, Hulk has been one of my Must Read titles every month. True, Loeb’s run had a certain childlike, Saturday morning cartoon charm to it that was appealing, if simple-minded at times, and what he did with the book he did well enough…at times. But in a mere three issues Parker has stopped this comic on a dime and steered it in a completely opposite direction, infusing it with a hard-edged, gritty sensibility that is utterly compelling to read. I credit this largely to the wise decision that was made to let Banner take the back seat and focus the narrative on General Ross and his mission to find a role for himself as Marvel’s latest gamma-powered monstrosity. Certain themes have always resounded throughout time and stories, and the hero’s quest for redemption remains one of the most popular.

Hell, I’d argue it’s one of the reasons why we are so drawn to characters like Wolverine, because his quest to make himself a Better Person is something we each see in ourselves. Where was I going with this? Oh right: in General Ross we have a similar character facing a similar struggle, and for me a large part of my enjoyment of this book right now is in appreciating his growth as a character and personal journey as a superhero. Every bit as powerful as Hulk, yet tactically brilliant in a way Banner could never be, Ross is a soldier with no war to fight, struggling to find an objective to achieve and a worthy endeavor to apply himself to. Notice the way he defers to Commander Rogers’s command or speaks about Namor politically as a head of state and it’s hard not to appreciate the tone and direction Parker is taking this book in. The “Scorched Earth” storyline is an effective, if rather routine, storyline with which to hit the reset button and chart a new course. Minimal on plot yet high on action, it’s an accessible jump on point for new readers and seems poised to tell its tale well without necessarily innovating anything.
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S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 – Review

By Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dustin Weaver (artist), Christina Strain (colors)

Dear Jonathan Hickman,

I think I’m in love with you.

Being a recently divorced, heterosexual, thirty-something I don’t admit this easily to the Internet, but shit man, your stories excite me like a twenty-dollar hooker on a Friday night!!! You’ve had my attention ever since The Nightly News, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. you have earned my adoration and accolades, both of which I will gladly bestow upon you until the end of time provided you can continue to give me storytelling as glorious as what you’re offering on this comic. S.H.I.E.L.D. is a miraculous, confounding book: saturated with ideas and intelligence, it demands my respect even as I wonder what the hell it is trying to achieve. You know what, though? For the abundance of imagination you’re giving me, I will gladly wait every two months to find out where you’re taking this story, because it demands respect, and I will gladly give it.

The moment that best defines this issue, in my humble opinion, was that double splash page of Leonardo Da Vinci flying within hundreds of feet of the Sun, looking like an antiquated Icarus in his steampunk spacesuit. When I saw that and beheld its beauty, it occurred to me that this was a story about defying expectations and refusing to accept limitations. I rather like that. And then you had to go and have Leonardo and Isaac Newton have a cryptic conversation in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and later have Da Vinci witness the birth of a Celestial and have it speak to him in mathematics. Come on, man! Are you completely trying to blow my mind here!? Cuz if you are…. well done, sir. Every page of your bi-monthly epic forces me to pay attention, read closely, despise the end of every issue, and savor the arrival of the next issue after it, and while some readers may resent being strung along from issue to issue without fully understanding the scope of what you’re achieving here, I for one happen to love coming along for the ride and feel this continues to be some of the best comic entertainment I can buy.

This month’s issue was quite illuminating, and yet still as baffling as the three before it. There was such an epic quality to that first encounter between Newton and Da Vinci as they sized each other up it reminded me of two generals competing for control of the same army. A shot was fired somewhere in those first few pages, perhaps when Da Vinci exposed the mysterious Human Machine to the assembled brother of S.H.I.E.L.D., or perhaps even earlier than that when Newton so selfishly tortured Nostradamus in pursuit of his own self, yet still painfully elusive agenda. But then a thought occurred to me: Although Newton’s methods are a tad…extreme, we don’t know that he’s anymore of a bad guy than Da Vinci is a good guy. And if each man, theoretically, has his own vision of how S.H.I.E.L.D. should be ran, then why is the Night Machine going out of his way to fuck things up for everyone? These are the things I lay awake some nights thinking about, and it’s genuinely rare for me to care about twenty-two silly pieces of paper as much as I do when they’re the products of your imagination.
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Wolverine #2 – Review

By Jason Aaron (writer), Renato Guedes (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist)

The Story: His soul now trapped in Hell while his possessed body walks the Earth killing those closest to him, Logan is forced to answer for a lifetime of murder by battling his victims before they can break him completely.

The Good: After what I felt was a decent, but rather mediocre first issue, I’m pleased that Aaron has jacked up the intensity and made this issue a much more entertaining read. It never ceases to amaze me that writers continue to find new things to do with Wolverine, especially considering how often he is used and abused in comics, and Aaron stands poised to pull off one of the most audacious Wolverine tales to date. Which is good! I like creators who are willing to sound off like they’ve got a pair and take these well-worn characters and do ridiculous shit with them because, when done right, that makes for the kind of entertainment that will keep me coming back month after month.

The thing that struck me about this issue was how creepy it was. Aaron imbues every page with details that underscore just how out of his league Logan really is. When Logan observes how there’s no passing of time, how he’s not actually breathing, or how his claws are once again bone and his healing factor has been compromised, you realize that he has, for all intent and purpose, been rendered powerless in a very mortal way, and part of the strength of this issue comes in watching Logan fight past his limitations and overcome what can only be described as the most insurmountable odds he has ever faced. This is the foundation of good storytelling. Aaron is fully aware of this, I’m certain of it, and I’m ready to trust him to take this story to the next level. Why, you ask? Well, just go back and look at that splash page of Sabretooth’s fate and tell me that didn’t get under your skin just a little bit. And just when you think you’ve got this story figured out and know what to expect next, Aaron pulls off one of the most ridiculously outrageous (and I really do mean that in a good way) cliffhangers I’ve seen in awhile and reminds you why you need and want to see what he comes up with next.
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Redball 6 – Review

By Ian and Jason Miller (writers), Jok (art), Estudio Haus (colors)

You ever have one of those days?

Detective Wayne Hambler sure has, especially since he died and woke up in Near Dis, a town without pity on the very cusp of Hell and populated by liars, thieves, and sinners all looking for a shot at redemption. Now employed by the city’s police department, Hambler has no choice but to investigate a new breed of crime for his demonic bosses while doling out ethereal justice and waiting for a chance to escape the threat of eternal damnation. Hambler is aided in his duties (heh heh…. “duties”…ahem, sorry) by a team of disparate law officers from throughout time, who are all in turn managed by a gruff demon named N’Gash. Over the course of five chapters, we are drawn into their lives, jobs, and a grisly conspiracy to undermine Near Dis’s power structure. And much to my delight, there is a lot to like about this original graphic novel!

To be fair, Jason and Ian Miller aren’t exactly breaking new ground here with this story. The guys are working in the firmly entrenched, clearly defined Cop Genre and they know it, but knowing that they know it, I’m able to adjust my expectations accordingly and enjoy the ride. If I have one complaint, it was that Hambler never really came through to me as a fully defined character. Seeing as we literally arrived in Near Dis with him, I assumed that he would have been our Virgil, guiding us through this city and introducing us to its inhabitants. I was hoping he would have been our emotional anchor through the story, but instead he came off as being very taciturn and hard to relate to. If the Millers had spent less time on the supporting cast and more time with Hambler I think I could have been more engaged with the story, but this was by no means a deal-breaker for me. I also felt the story was a little disjointed, coming off at times as more of a series of independent stories than one cohesive narrative Luckily for the guys though, this book is easily entertaining enough to sustain an ongoing series should Arcana and the Millers with to pursue it further, and I’m hoping they do because Hambler’s new beat is one ripe with the potential to tell some damn fine stories!
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