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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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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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