Monday, 30 April 2012

Popeye is Back!

I'm Popeye the Sailor Man,
I live in a garbage can.
There's a hole in the middle,
Where I do me piddle,
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!

Brought back by IDW, Roger Langridge and Bruce Ozella, Popeye's glorious return to comics is precisely that: glorious.

You may remember the old comics, or perhaps like me the cartoon they used to play on CBBC (or was it CITV?) every afternoon. Regardless, the classic Popeye characters are instantly memorable, from Popeye's amazing sailor-speak to Olive Oil's vindictive damsel and Bluto's gruff pettiness. Here we have assembled a grand cast of mismatched characters, who bump off each other at every iven opportunity and argue bitterly. It's great fun to watch Langridge - known for Snarked and Thor: The Mighty Avenger - turn his hand to a comic like this, which matches his voice as a writer so perfectly. Ozella, also, does a superb job at matching the style of Popeye creator E.C. Segar, giving each page a deliberate feel of slow-burning tension.

The jokes are brilliant, from Popeye's dismissal of a shark to the nattering of Olive Oil. Each page works alone, but better as a whole story, in conveying a joke to the reader. While the dialogue hits readers with about seven or eight jokes each page, the action itself builds up to a satisfying punchline on almost every page. And with Langridge choosing to write this four-issue miniseries as a collection of one-shot tales, that structure pays off beautifully over the course of 22-pages.

This is a rather short review, and apologies for that. I shall boost it up a little later! But for now, just remember: Popeye. Buy it!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Comics Vanguard Review THE AVENGERS

[No spoilers]

I watched and enjoyed Thor and Iron Man. Did not go to see either of the Hulk films or Captain America. Didn’t like Iron Man 2. Right! Backstory over. Did I enjoy The Avengers?

Why yes, I sure did! Starting off with a slightly confused opening fight/chase sequence, The Avengers quickly shifts gears to become a character-driven story which gets viewers invested in the characters before thrusting everybody into a massive action sequence at the end. The film sees Chris Hemsworth return as Thor (very enjoyable), Chris Evans as Captain America (struggling a little to find room for his charisma to shine through), Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark (much more fun to watch when his constant one-liners are actually funny), Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow (given a bump in personality and capability), Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (confident but without much to do) and the full arrival of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye (a solid performance which turns a boring comic character into an interesting film role) and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk (the best performance in the film). Maria Hill and Agent Coulson also appear, played dependably by Cobie Smulders and Clark Gregg, while Tom Hiddlesworth reprises his role as Loki in sneering, camp style.

The performances are all strong, with some – Ruffalo, Hemsworth – stealing any scene they’re in. Writer/Director Joss Whedon mixes them up in interesting ways as the film goes on, giving most of them the opportunity to spend time with anyone else. You’ll see Hawkeye work with Black Widow, but Black Widow work with Captain America, and Captain America work with Iron Man or Thor. For a comic-fan, seeing people butt heads in just the right way is one of the main strengths of a massively effective script. Humour gets lobbed about, unsurprisingly, with everyone given the chance to show their differing viewpoints and senses of humour, while the action scenes fall into place fairly organically, and don’t detract from the characters. Whedon in particular nails a dynamic between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner which was a delight to see.

The plot is extremely – EXTREMELY – thin, with Hiddleston’s Loki having a rather simplistic plan which has to be complicated by surprising subplots which don’t lead us anywhere particularly interesting. SHIELD, in particular, don’t come across as an interesting organisation, beyond the three main agents of the film. The scenes where Nick Fury addresses his ‘council’ in particular are a little dull. The opening scenes are frantic, but uninvolving, and it’s not until we start seeing the Avengers team together that things pick up and the momentum begins to spin and spin. There are a lot of fight scenes, and they’re of varying quality. Loki’s initial fight is overly-edited, a problem which recurs once or twice in this fight-heavy film. However, the final fight is an utter triumph of film, with CGI and live fighting matched with moments of wit, levity, pathos and intensity. We as viewers are fairly aware that Whedon isn’t going to get to pull off one of his patented ‘Joss Deaths’, but he manages to make things fairly tense for every character.

There aren’t many shout-outs for comic fans, but a teaser halfway through the credits (there is nothing RIGHT at the end) should whet appetites for a potential Avengers 2 movie. A film which doesn’t feel as long as it is, Avengers packs an incredible amount of content into the running time, with superbly-staged fights, a fun and interesting script, and most importantly – a thoroughly heroic line-up of characters. Marvel did it, guys. They made The Avengers into the biggest superhero movie of all time.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Marvel Reveal More about Spider-Men

Marvel's crossover story between Amazing Spider-Man's Peter Parker and Ultimate Spider-Man's Miles Morales finally starts to form into a coherent story, with Brian Michael Bendis revealing more information about what's actually going to happen. It appears that Peter will be the one heading into Miles' world, which immediately should give you a few interesting glimpses into what might happen -- in the Ultimate Universe, remember, Gwen Stacy is still alive -- and he'll be thrown across dimensions by none other than Mysterio.

Currently featuring in Dan Slott's 'Ends of the Earth' Spider-Man event, Mysterio is going to step up and throw Peter into the Ultimate Universe... for whatever reason he has for doing so. Drawn by Sara Pichelli and written by Brian Michael Bendis, Spider-Men starts in June.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Shade the Changing Man Kills the DC Universe

Spoilers ahoy for Justice League Dark #8. Caution your eyes!

Justice League Dark and I, Vampire completed their crossover event this week, with both final parts of ‘Rise of the Vampires’  shipping simultaneously. It’s rather obvious that this was a story which had very different levels of editor involvement. I, Vampire more or less sidesteps the entire story, throws away the villain very quickly, and doesn’t pay much attention to any of the JLD team. The story is extremely light, with several pages which barely have any text at all. This is all done to showcase the astonishing art of Andrea Sorrentino, which makes it feel less like a cheat.

On the other hand, this is Peter Milligan’s last issue of Justice League Dark, and the strain shows. Now only does Milligan have to change his ‘important final battle’ to arbitrarily be this fight against a few mangy vampires, but Milligan is also asked to wrap up any dangling plot points at the same time as crossover with another title, and share a story with Joshua Fialkov. With Milligan getting shuffled off the book and pushed onto the almost-dead Stormwatch title, and Jeff Lemire coming on, Milligan also has to make sure his story lines up neatly into Lemire’s pitch for the book.

And that means getting rid of Shade, The Changing Man. Probably one of the most promising subplots for Justice League Dark was the re-emergence of Shade as both a threat and a character, with his self-denial and tortured psyche threatening to topple him into a full-on mental breakdown at any moment. Which, Jeff Lemire didn’t want to use Shade, so that has to happen halfway through this issue, very suddenly. It’s a damn shame that the editors pulled this book away from Peter Milligan so very quickly, because he had taken a slow-burning plot and cast of mostly Vertigo characters and turned them into one of the most enjoyable books on the stands. The rush shows in this book – it shows on the first page even, which contains a typo – and leaves Milligan struggling for space. As befits one of the greatest writers of all time, however, he manages to send Shade off in style, with the character having a crisis which causes him to destroy the entire DC Universe.

Only Shade is left, and he wanders around ‘the area of madness’ by himself towards the end of the issue, ultimately joined by his long-dead girlfriend Kathy as they explore eternity together. It’s a fond farewell from Milligan to one of his favourite characters, and a character he’s been writing for several decades now. It’s not stated whether Shade dies or throws himself into his own mind, or a different dimension. It’s simply shown that he’s removed everything else from existence, and has decided to live his own life, with only his conscience for company. It’s a sad finale, but a fitting one.

It really feels like DC have made a massive mistake by pulling Peter Milligan off this book.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 has a flying car in it

Today saw the release of Ultimate Spider-Man #1, a series connected to the new Marvel Studios cartoon. This is one of two comics editor Steve Wacker is associated with, which have the aim of revamping the phrase “all-ages” and changing the perception. Which, I think they mostly manage to do here. In interviews, the creative team have all made it clear that they don’t want “all-ages” to mean “only for little kids” anymore. It means a comic which anyone can pick up, safe in the knowledge they’re picking up something that’s simply fun, and not violent, sweary, or nudity-filled.

To create such a comic, Wacker has managed to assemble an incredibly impressive creative team. The Men of Action (the studio which includes Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and others) are in charge of the main story, while writers like Harrison Wilcox (from She-Hulks! I miss She-Hulks) contribute throwaway one-pagers and Dan Slott/Ty Templeton create a back-up. All in all, there’s more content in this comic than you can find most anywhere else, and a real sense of creative freedom. Sure, the writers and artists have to pretty much stick to, y’know, Spider-Man’s history and all, but they do so in a succession of weird and inventive ways, which pays lip-service to the original story and then spins off into its own little world.

It probably helps that the book actually does exist in a self-contained Universe. The series is set in the world of the cartoon series, which means Nick Fury is Samuel L. Jackson, the entire cast are back in school, Agent Coulson is apparently the principal of said school, and Uncle Ben taught Peter karate. Herein lies one of the problems with the book – there’s so much going on, it’s hard to keep track. It’s assumed that everyone will know the origin of Spider-Man, because the way the Men of Action choose to explain it is the most over-elaborate, tossed-away, hyper-convoluted narrative I’ve read since DC relaunched Superman with George Perez. We find out the story partly through a nursery rhyme, then Peter himself breaks the fourth wall to explain it further whilst fighting Shocker, and barely anything actually gets explained. New readers are going to be super, super-confused.

The story itself is an utterly manic thing, with artist Nuno Plati going completely overboard in an impressive, Max Fiumara-esque manner. Characters don’t necessarily need to bear any resemblance to actual humans, and the bodies and proportions fly all over the place in favour of silly, funny layouts. Plati struggles a little at times to put expression onto Spider-Man’s face – not an easy task – but his overexaggerated work is great fun, and fits the script perfectly. The scripting, though, is all over the place. Some parts of the book work brilliantly, and other parts are confused. And some parts directly steal a scene from Scott Pilgrim.

Dan Slott/Ty Templeton’s backup story is a bit of a relief to read, because at least it gives readers a chance to keep up with what’s going on. This is all about clone robots and SHIELD messing with Peter’s social life, and would really have made a better main feature than the one we’ve got. The jokes have a higher hit-to-miss ratio, and there’s some obvious Dan Slott touches. Also some obvious Ty Templeton touches, as he’s the one who writes the script and does so with obvious glee. There’s also a feature called ‘Marvel Mash-Up’, where contemporary writers take a page of classic Amazing Spider-Man and re-write the dialogue. So Harrison Wilcox take a page of J. Jonah. Jameson in his office and turns it into a bizarre hamburger story, while Todd Casey suggests that Spider-Man, caught short while web slinging, decides to do the unthinkable. It’s surprising to read, but enjoyable as a concept. It also gives Clayton Cowles a difficult job to do as letter, as he has to re-appropriate the word balloons and cram different dialogue into them. It's close, but he manages to just about keep things within the lines, and keep the feel of the stories relatively intact. It's also interesting to see the style of art clash with the silliness of the text.
While the main story of Ultimate Spider-Man feels a little wearying and overdone, the overall style of the book is aces. Editors Steve Wacker and Ellie Pyle are unafraid to take the stories into weird places, and it pays off overall. Ultimate Spider-Man is a slight stumble at the same time that it’s a leap forwards for the concept of “All-Ages”.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Frank Quitely's Cover for Batman Inc #1

Of course you want to see what Frank Quitely's drawn now! He's only one of the very best artists ever, after all. And with the announcement that a second volume of Batman, Inc was coming came the tense wait to see what Quitely would do with the two heroes next. And... well.

It looks a little like something Frazer Irving would draw, doesn't it? The colouring and angle of the shot both seem to be in keeping with Irving's off-kilter style. But anyway, here we are. Stare away, you guys. Also: another crazy background colour! Morrison/Quitely are really going for it at the moment. I quite like it.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Uncanny X-Force's Unkillable Kill

We're between arcs for Uncanny X-Force, with the much-anticipated storyline 'The Final Execution' starting next week, and the much-people-wrote-highly-mixed-reviews-about Trial of Fantomex finished. As such, writer Rick Remender decides to use issue #24 to cut off one of his dangling plot threads – the evil version of Iceman who is now hanging around in the Marvel Universe, having jumped in from a parallel Earth. And Remender chooses to cut that thread hard. After quickly throwing the rest of the X-Force team out various windows and away from the playing-field, he devotes the rest of the issue to a mano-a-mano fight between his two Age-of-Apocalypse characters, with Nightcrawler and Iceman engaging in a brutal fight against each other.

Artist Phil Noto jumps on for the arc, and shows a surprising ability to draw fight scenes as well as expressive character-building scenes. I’ve not seen Noto really lay into a fight before, but he pulls off the scrap with consummate ease, crafting a fight which flows smoothly around the page and gives readers a full idea of how the match is progressing. Remender then sticks in the knife at the end, with a brutal ending which definitively ends the story for one of the participants. And by that I mean he kills one of them. How this will affect the story as we progress across into The Final Execution is anybody’s guess, but it does add a layer of personality onto AoA Nightcrawler, after the character’s previous, slightly-wayward previous outings under Remender’s pen. The writer finally nails the character down here, and just in time. Just in time for what? For death? Maybe! You’ll have to read the issue.

The second plot thread which wanders in and out of the issue is that of Psylocke and Fantomex. Psylocke has just murdered her brother Jamie in cold blood, after apparently making a deal which took away her ability to feel compassion. This is a storyline which seems rather worrying, and doesn’t look like it’ll have positive ramifications for Psylocke’s character (and I mean that on a storytelling level). Remender handles it well here, though, and although it seems a little like a cop-out to now make Psylocke into an emotional robot, it gives him yet another chance to add character to Fantomex. Remender’s treatment of Grant Morrison’s Gambit-esque assassin has been the core of this series ever since that start, and he gets another fine showcase here, without using his guns once.

Uncanny X-Force seems to be steeling itself for the next arc. After a few shaky issues which came straight after the critically-acclaimed ‘Dark Angel Saga’, it’s now more important than ever that Remender pulls off his next story. If it’s a hit, his run will be looked on as a success. If it misses, readers are going to think he peaked early. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see what happens in Uncanny X-Force #25.

DC and Marvel Studios Team-Up for the Sake of Money

Blogger is basically impossible to use at the moment, so apologies for the short absence these past few days. Anyway! Isn't it nice to see Marvel and DC getting along? There've been jabs between the two sides -- friendly and otherwise -- for years now, with writers and artists jumping sides every so often like some kind of Mark Millar event storyline or something. Well, even though it isn't in the comic-side of things, it's still nice to see the two companies working together for a greater cause. Like marketing.

When you inevitably go to see The Avengers this month, make sure you get to the cinema early, with a bag of chocolate hidden under your coat because it's so much cheaper to pre-buy your sweets than to get them at the kiosk. Because! The new trailer for The Dark Knight rises, Christopher Nolan's final part of his Batman trilogy, will be airing directly before The Avengers starts. Holy cross-marketing, readers!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Chris Roberson Walks Away from DC Comics and then they Fire Him

Chris Roberson, the writer of iZombie for DC's Vertigo imprint (as well as the current IDW miniseries Memorial), announced yesterday that he would be walking away from the publisher permanantly, following the cancellation of his book. iZombie's cancellation was made apparent a few months ago, but Roberson only finished the script for the final issue over the past few days. It was following his completion of the script that he announced he wouldn't be working for DC ever again, apparently for ethical reasons. His irritation with DC comes as a result of their decision to publish the 'Before Watchmen' series of comics, and their ultimate treatment of Watchmen creator Alan Moore.

Originally told that a year after the book went out of print, the rights to Watchmen would revert back to him, Moore found out that DC were never going to allow his work to ever go out of print. As a result, he has never been able to get the rights back, and DC have gone on to reap profits for years. And now they're making the Before Watchmen titles, without his permission. Alan Moore is a cranky git sometimes, but this is one of the examples where he's right to be so. Anyway, Chris Roberson had no other projects lined up with DC anyway, so was able to simply walk away. Oh -- apart from one thing.

He was lined up to write the second arc for Bill Willingham's Fables spinoff, 'Fairest', with Sean McManus. The arc would've seen him return to the character of Cinderella, and the scripts seem like they had already been written. Seemingly annoyed by Roberson's declaration, DC have now decided to cancel the arc, pay Roberson for the story, and fire him all at the same time. Seems like a rather petty, silly move, but it certainly doesn't hurt Roberson's reputation any. Memorial is out now! We're four issues into a six-issue story at the moment, with more stories to come!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

fyi Hepzibah is in AvX


Rachel Rising

More than anybody else in the world of comics, Terry Moore is admired for his ability to tell a story. The writer/artist for titles like Echo and Strangers in Paradise is well-known as a consummate professional, telling stories featuring realistic female characters which try new things with the format and progress ideas about how to structure and tell a story. But up until now, he'd never tried anything too strange. Sure, he'd used sci-fi before, but his new venture 'Rachel Rising' is a straight-up horror story, slowly telling an increasingly unsettling and strange series of events which has created an off-beat take on the idea of horror.

Issue #7, the first issue I've picked up from the series, is in black and white, drawn entirely by Moore. Published by Abstract Studios, the book has a lush feel to it -- and a cover which, if you look carefully enough, reveals some very strange activity indeed going on. This issue focuses on Rachel, who has just survived a car crash which put her aunt in a hospital and one of her friends in the morgue. But a string of unexpected details have started to knit themselves together, moving the story into distinctly uncanny territory. Moore handles this nicely, explaining the current status quo for new readers without forcing anything in. His page composition is, obviously, absolutely lovely, with the first three pages a masterclass in how to decompress a story in order to express the characters. The following conversational scenes are similarly well-arranged, moving the story around just as quickly as Moore wants.

I won't mention the twists, but there's a notable element of black humour pervading the book which actually works in establishing the tone of the story. One character's indignation at her current predicament is played for laughs, but also helps to place the horror elements into what was a fairly straightforward story. Her sense of dignity contrasts with her surroundings, and that dichotomy rises across the issue as a whole. The characters just want to move along in a normal way, but these tiny little strings of information keep getting dangled in front of them. Without having to write anything extreme, or resorting to violence, Moore is able to use the readers' growing sense of unease to create elements of horror. The final scene, when it comes, is brilliantly cleverly, and works because it's placed in such a realistic setting. The reactions of those nearby connect to the oddness of the scene to create unease, then horror.

Rachel Rising is a lovely, lush comic book. Well-crafted and paced, the story walks at its own pace and tells the story exactly the way Moore wants readers to read it. It's well-worth picking up.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The End of War Machine

Matt Fraction knows what he’s doing. The cover for Invincible Iron Man #515 makes it very clear that War Machine is going to die. There he is, right there, broken and shattered in Tony Stark’s arms.

And on the inside comes more of the same, with every line an irony echo of Jim Rhodes’ ultimate fate. We know he’s going to die, the villains know he’s going to die, but War Machine remains in the dark until the very end. It’s a well-done issue, and not just because it gives us another fight scene. Invincible Iron Man has started to ramp up the fighting recently, as Fraction begins to enter an end-game to wrap all his ideas up, and the series has only improved from finally letting the tension out. Sometimes the book can be so suck in character moments that Fraction forgets entirely to give the readers ‘comic-book moments’ where things explode or get punched. #515 suffers from no such problem. While War Machine fights against a mounting number of classic Iron Man villains, the rest of the cast all struggle with their various problems and fight to be by his side.

Tony Stark has been shut down by a US Government which – once again – doesn’t trust him. His suit can’t be activated unless they let him activate it, and he’s recently been really struggling with his alcoholism. Fraction has never been afraid to really stamp down on Tony’s neck and make him suffer, and this issue manages to do that while still showcasing the strengths of the character. Pepper Potts hasn’t been quite as interesting, but Fraction still manages to give her a couple of pages to be average in. Bethany McCabe, upsettingly doesn’t get to do much talking at all.

But who cares about those three? This is an issue for War Machine. Now, it’s fair to say he doesn’t put up the greatest fight of his life against his enemies – he comes across as extremely cocky and arrogant during the battle, to the extent where you start to root for them a little bit. But the pacing of the fight is absolutely nailed by Fraction, where he can bring all his myriad plot points into one splash page which sends War Machine off to Heaven. Oh, he dies, folks. Make no doubt about that. War Machine is gone.

The final few pages then set up a new status quo which makes next month’s issue seem very far away indeed. We’ve seen Tony Stark on the run for years now. It looks like he’s finally going to turn around and hurtle head-first into trouble. Fraction has been telling a story which needs a powerful finale in order for everything else to fit into place and define the run as a classic. With the momentum he has now, that’s looking more and more like a guarantee.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Meredith Gran Spins off Adventure

Adventure Time #1 proved such a success for Kaboom (the all-ages imprint for Boom studios) that they've now announced a spin-off series, focusing on Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum. Written and drawn by Meredith Gran, Marceline and The Scream Queens will feature a backup story in each issue, and issue #1 will also boast a staggering FIVE variant covers. One is drawn by Colleen Coover!

Another is by Ming Doyle, and another is by Chynna Clugston, and another is by Lucy Knisley. Issue #1 of the series is due in July.

Batgirl update: still kinda liking Batgirl

It may be melodramatic and fairly simple, but Gail Simone’s current run with Batgirl - forcing Barbara Gordon from her wheelchair and back onto the Gotham skyline - isn’t without a certain charm. The current arc, which is still drip-feeding readers with information about the Killing Joke, natch, sees Barbara facing one of the Joker’s henchmen from that fateful night (when she got shot and paralysed by Joker, remember?) who now works for a new villain. This villain, called Grotesque, wears a mask and carries a cane and is opulent.

But before we get into the superhero element of the story, let’s first pay attention to the segment which is soap-opera-y and a little less enjoyable. This arc sees Batgirl’s absent mother returning to Gotham, in an attempt to reconnect with her broken family. Barbara hasn’t yet come to terms with this, and confronts her mother. After hearing her mum’s explanation she’s less angry, but more conflicted, and runs off crying. The scene just-about hangs together, but only because it’s able to lean on Scott Snyder’s brilliant ‘Black Mirror’ story for balance. There’s also a bit of a problem with the artist drawing these scenes - I’m not sure if it’s Adrian Syaf, Alitha Martinez or Vicente Cifuentes, all of whom are credited on this issue - but they struggle with the job of differentiating the two red-heads. There may be twenty years between them, but Batgirl looks just as old as her mother is, most of the time, and that means relying on the clothes to keep the two distinct.

Okay! Back to the main plot thread. Batgirl has to deal with Joker’s thug, as well as Grotesque, and makes some bizarre decisions as a result. Her rationale throughout the issue is a little off, and Simone is obviously trying to play off that to make her charge seem more unpredictable - but it doesn’t really come across that way. Instead, Batgirl just seems stupid and ill-prepared. I do like that she’s still riding her motorbike around all the time, but everything else she does seems a little arbitrary. The final fight scene then plays out in the way most people would be expecting - a redemptive sacrifice, some punching, and so on.

The final two pages are the biggest ones. And this, as soon as a character turned up whose face was being obscured, got me excited. Because sure enough, Simone has got her hands on James Gordon Jr, and is looking to cause some trouble. That’s massively exciting, and should work wonders on the book. Barbara has spent some time fighting new villains, and thinking about the (currently unusable because Tony Daniel cut his face off) Joker… but now it’s time for Simone to bring us a storyline readers have been clamouring for ever since Black Mirror concluded. It’s a great prospect.

Monday, 16 April 2012

New Hawkeye Series Announced, Defying Rational Wisdom

Matt Fraction and David Aja have been announced as the creative team behind a new ongoing series for Clint Barton, the hero known as Hawkeye. In keeping with the push for Joss Whedon's 'Avengers Assemble' movie, this series will see Hawkeye wearing the Jeremy Renner costume so new readers can jump onto the book with issue #1. Fraction also promises to stick to short, one/two issue stories, which can only be a good thing.

Now! I know that everyone out there will be wondering why Marvel thinks Hawkeye is a worthwhile character, because that's the obvious question to ask. He's annoying, cocksure, but surprisingly bland as a personality. If you had to say what he brings to a team, the only thing anybody could really say is "a bow and arrow, also he may have sex with somebody". Essentially, this is everything the character has to offer. He wears purple, sleeps with ALL the girls, and has a bow and arrow.

But now we can add something else to that list. That something else is he will be drawn by David Aja. Look at these two covers. I defy you to look at them and not be nearly-swayed into buying this book, which also promises to feature Kate Bishop (the superior character from the Young Avengers) as an apprentice to Barton. And also, Spider-Woman will be around, as apparently she's the woman Hawkeye is currently doing sex to. So at least Fraction is using the situation to bring in better characters to the book. Hawkeye himself? The blandest! Fraction and Aja working on a Hawkeye book? Pretty tempting.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

C2E2: From Stegman's Fantastic Four to Gillen on Mighty Thor

Marvel announced a few things at c2e2 this year, and here are the things that they announced. At c2e2. This year. Announced by Marvel. Comics.

Ryan Stegman will be the new regular artist on Fantastic Four starting in August - leaving Scarlet Spider to go join Jonathan Hickman as they start to hit an endgame for Hickman's run with the world's greatest superhero team.

Scarlet Spider will therefore have a new artist. This new artist is... Khoi Pham.

Jamie McKelvie is going to join Matt Fraction on The Defenders, and is very keen to draw Dr Strange's moustache.

A crossover is due to hit the Ultimate Universe called 'Divided We Fall'. This story will be divided between Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, and The Ultimates.

Kieron Gillen is going to join Matt Fraction as a co-writer for The Mighty Thor. Their first story will be a seven-issue crossover between Thor and Journey Into Mystery called 'Everything Burns'. Alan Davis and Carmine di Giandomenico will draw. Stephanie Hans will do the covers! Yay

And finally...

James Asmus will be writing a new Gambit series, with art by Clay Mann!

Justice League International Is Just The Worst

The cast list for Justice League International is juicy. Guy Gardner, otherwise known as the Green Lantern with a discernible personality, joins a line-up which also includes Ice, Booster Gold, Batman, the excellent August General in Iron, Godiva and a seemingly-absent Vixen. So amongst that crew you have arguably the most popular character in comics; the thoroughly-entertaining and self-centred Booster Gold; a superhero relationship; and an assortment of other, silly/manic/dominating personalities. So how can it possibly be the most boring book ever written?

Issue #8 picks up on the long-running story which has been weaving itself around the team, wherein a series of villains have been attempting to destroy the JLI and by extension the UN for no apparent reason (it should be explained that, in-universe, the UN have accepted the JLI as their official superhero team). This issue spends a few pages with one of the villains, as he delivers the most hollow and underwhelmingly vacuous speech about puppet-masters and government. In the speech, this guy – who kills off everybody in the vicinity as he says this – decides he is going to take apart everything because ‘they’ get rich off his hard work. Who ‘they’ are is not explained, nor is the reason why they make money from him doing whatever his dayjob is meant to be. We’re all apparently prisoners to TV and credit cards, and the whole speech seems like writer Dan Jurgens going through the motions in the most dish-water dull fashion imaginable. There is nothing interesting about the villain, whose name is ultimately revealed to be Breakdown. Because his power is to break down the composition of things! So he’s also going to break down the composition of society! FOR NO REASON!

Justice League International isn’t just terrible plotting – it’s a downright lazy comic which characterises everybody in exactly the wrong way. Guy Gardner is known to be stubborn, and aggressive, and in this issue he’s told that he should leave the hospital where his girlfriend is lying, wounded. He makes a token gesture of defiance but then walks out, having been persuaded BETWEEN PANELS that he may as well wander off for a bit. He gives in within a few panels, and for no apparent reason other that the plot needs him for a fight scene set outside. Likewise, Booster Gold is known to be cocky and a smartmouth. Visiting guest star Batwing even comments on this in his narration, deciding midway through a one-liner that he doesn’t like Booster’s jackass confidence. But the one-liner Batwing decides is too much? It’s Booster Gold saying that their opponents have an agenda, and it was smart of Batman to bring in outside help. Booster is not being cocky at all – he’s being gracious, and Batwing getting annoyed by that makes NO SENSE. Booster doesn’t have anything funny to say, and is fundamentally dull throughout this issue. You could attach his dialogue to any generic superhero, and it’d seem boring but adequate. Nothing makes him distinct.

Even Batman has nothing to add to proceedings other than bland exposition nobody cares about.

Aaron Lopresti’s art is fine. It’s perfectly decent, with a stable sense of storytelling and attention to detail. There’s nothing exciting about it, but it does the job.

No, the main problem here is that the writing is lazy and amateurish. Even a last-minute, unexplained appearance from OMAC comes across as dull, with generic dialogue robbing the character of the one thing he has – grandstanding declarations. “Move… and you DIE” isn’t exactly a scintillating last line to end an issue. It’s bog-standard, uninteresting garbage. Which, that’s also my assessment of the book as a whole. It’s garbage.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Newbridge is For Lovers

Apropros of nothing, which is my favourite thing to be apropros of, let us sit back with a long island ice tea together, and take a nostalgic look back at one of Megan Gwynn's most interesting fashion choices.

Many people wondered which member of the X-Men Matt Fraction most connected with.

Ah, sweet memories. If only they could return.


Dark Horse Go All-Out on their Buffy Franchise

Having ripped the cast of Angel from IDW's despairing hands, Dark Horse have now decided to capitalise on the success of their Joss Whedon license by adding two more spin-offs to Buffy Season 9. These have just been announced by Entertainment Weekly. Sitting alongside the main Buffy series and Christos Gage's 'Angel & Faith' book will now come two more books, both from surprising sources..

The first will be a Spike series written by Victor Gischler and drawn by Paul Lee. The book will spin out from the remnants of that terrible 'Buffy Season 8' series, hopefully looking to find the same magic of Gage's book. Covers will be by Jo Chen, as you can probably tell. SWOON, am I right? Spike will start in August.

And here's the more surprising announcement: Jeff Parker will be writing a Willow series, drawn by Brian Ching. Yes, apparently Jeff Parker is now wandering from the pale arms of Marvel and jumping up onto the *ahem* saddle of Dark Horse. This book will have covers from David Mack - another Marvel guy who seems to be wandering free nowadays. Willow starts in November.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Fifteen Years of Thunderbolts

Caught behind the big showcase of Avengers and X-Men last week was Thunderbolts, the little comic which could and has been for the past fifteen years. Sure, there have been periods of quiet, but ever since at the very least Warren Ellis' revitalising Civil War tie-in series; Thunderbolts has been progressing with unstoppable momentum. And sure, it's going to be turned into Dark Avengers soon, but for characters like Songbird, Ghost and Moonstone this title has been revelatory.

The basic concept for the book was showcased fifteen years ago last week, when writer Kurt Busiek and artist Mark Bagley unveiled their new superhero team. The only twist being, at the end of the issue, every member of the cast pulled off their masks to reveal that they weren't heroes at all - they were villains, pulling off an elaborate con. And ever since, each new incarnation of the team have seen former/current villains donning the guise of common everyday superheroes in order to complete a scheme... or genuinely seek redemption.

Issue #172 plays into this concept brilliantly, turning the long-running central storyline (in which members of the Thunderbolts have been sent back through the time stream, causing havoc across the decades) in on itself for a clever look back on the title. On this stop in the timestream, the team have ended up... facing the very first lineup of the Thunderbolts. The new team faces the old. But not only are a new team facing an old team - but some current members of the team are now forced to look back on themselves when they were younger. Moonstone comes face to face with her younger self, while Fixer sees himself when he used to go by the name of Techno. Oh, youth!

Jeff Parker has been writing the title for a very long time now, starting off with Luke Cage and a team of supervillains before expanding the storyline into this manic cross-time caper we're currently in the midst of. It's been a triumphantly entertaining run, vaulting over mandated events like Shadowland and Fear Itself with consummate ease, as Parker displays his ability to write the single most entertaining comics you'll find on the shelves. There are jokes and action and character, but also a hefty jolt of energy in every issue. Whether putting a stetson on Cage and pretending to be in a western story or putting pathos into Man Thing, Parker's run has been filled with fantastical ideas and straight-up fun.

This latest issue continues that, giving readers a cast of relatively unknown villains and anti-heroes and making them into a quirky, diverse team. Thunderbolts reaches it's fifteen year of existence as a concept in style, and Parker leaves readers with a last page which salutes everything about Busiek and Bagley's original story, while moving things into a crazy, messed-up, brilliantly fun place. If you're not following Thunderbolts, you should probably go back a few years and start.

Marvel's Risky Gambit

DO YOU GET IT? Because they're teasing a Gambit solo series! Which is a tricky gambit in and of itself, because it's hard to gauge just how popular Remy Lebeau is nowadays. Will Marvel actually revive the solo series, or is this a rebrand for X-Men Legacy? Perhaps a one-shot or mini? Will James Asmus write it, or Marjorie Liu, or Kathryn Immonen? Is this - more than commissioning a new series for Carol Danvers - the move which finally brings female readers to Marvel?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Two Teasers for C2E2

Marvel have a few things planned for next weekend's C2E2 (yes, we're absolutely in the very depths of convention season now, and every other weekend is going to see her things announced or teased by creative teams around America), not least of which is this teaser for a new project between Matt Fraction and David Aja:

Most people are speculating Hawkeye because of all the targets, and the fact he's the only character in the Avengers who doesn't have a solo title of his own right now.

Also at C2E2: a new project from James Asmus! Will it be all about Darkstar and/or Pixie?!

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Wrong Hotdog

Fanboys Vs Zombies is not very subtle. But it is fun! Mixing some rather obvious jokes about geeks with some rather clever jokes... about geeks, the first issue of the series came out last week. Sam Humphries, he of 'writing absolutely everything right now' fame, is in charge, teaming up with artist Jerry Gaylord for Boom! Studios. Things build as you might expect them to - the actual zombie attack only begins towards the end of this issue, with the start being more dedicated to giving us a broad look at the various main members of the cast.

So far, they all seem to jump into fairly established ideas: we've got the massively confident geek girls, who claim dominion over everyone around them. We've got the insecure geek guys. The enthusiastic and proudly slobby fat guys; the people with inexcusable facial hair; the nice creators and mean-spirited fans. All stereotypical, but only because that's more or less as it is in reality. Humphries knows the convention circuit well, with the different people wandering around and the bizarre interactions that happen when competing groups of geeks bump into each other.

Many of the characters, at this point, come across as a little unlikeable. Which is good news! Because this is a zombie book, meaning hopefully many of them will die. The creation of the zombies is the single-best gag in the comic, so I won't spoil it here. But it does show that Humphries is not afraid to go gross with the book, and is a promising omen for future issues. It's an inspired sequencing of panels, drawn with absolute glee by Gaylord. With his slightly manga-ish art looking quite similar to the madcap work of Humberto Ramos, Gaylord is a superb choice for art duties. Teamed up with the fun, dayglo colours of Nolan Woodard, the book catches the energy of Humphries' writing with ease.

The jokes are a mixed bag. There's a bit of over-reliance on Twitter jokes to start with, with the main characters all throwing in rather obvious 'geek-speak' phrases like wtf, #humblebrag; and references to Tumblr, and so on. Those start to phase out as the comic goes on, and I'll admit to illictly laughing at a water cooler which has "H2 The Izzo" written on it. Also, the finale of the issue leaves the remaining survivors holded up in the CBR interview lounge - with Jonah Weiland, it looks like - which is hilarious.

Fanboys Vs Zombies is over-the-top, and utterly gleeful. It's the perfect tone for the story, and it'll be fun to see how Humphries continues as the series goes on.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Marvel Hint at new All-Female Title

The Fearless, Marvel's twelve-issue maxiseries which span out of Fear Itself, concludes today, with a final battle between Valkyrie and a giant robot monster. It's a fun issue, which gives Valkyrie a great showing as a character, as well as a devastating burn aimed at her nemesis, Sin. Read the issue and you'll know the one I mean.

But from the end of this book come hints of a new title. Towards the end, there are definite signs that Marvel are planning a new book - perhaps Lady Liberators - which will feature Valkyrie alongside Spider-Woman, Mockingbird, Ms/Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Sharon Carter, Black Widow and Storm. It's certainly looking like Marvel have plans for the characters, although obviously nothing has been announced just yet. But on the back of the recent announcement about Carol Danvers, it seems like the Lady Liberators may just be on their way back...

(Note: Actual Lady Liberators relaunch cover will probably not be as Frank Cho-y as this one)

Comics Vanguard Are Not Bitter About This Whole 'Eisner Snub' Thing

2012 Nominations

Best Comics-Related Journalism

The AV Club Comics Panel, by Noel Murray, Oliver Sava et al.

What the f***?! The AV Club don't even write about Justice League Dark! I'd like to see Tasha Robinson and Sean O'Neal eloquently write their way round an extended Pixie metaphor! This is **&^ng *^&%s^%&! All these guys ever do is REVIEW comics! What kind of journalism is that?? Have they ever had EXCLUSIVE SCOOPS? No!! BECAUSE ALL THEY DO IS REVIEW THINGS! They don't ever have exclusives, pfft w/e guys call me when you're real journalists yeah? The kind who don't laze around all day being full-time writers but WORK HARD during the day and then spend thirty, maybe forty minutes writing about comics.

The Beat, produced by Heidi MacDonald et al.

OH C'MON?! You're going to nominate a website without ANY COOL PICTURES?! All The Beat has is quality writing about industry news, with the occasional link to a video about cats! That can barely compare to the image-heavy weight of Comics Vanguard!! What's Heidi MacDonald done for the industry recently apart from help bring Y: The Last Man into existence and repeatedly campaign for more fairness and equality in industry standards? Has she ever heard of Darkstar?! I DOUBT IT

The Comics Journal, edited by Gary Groth, and The Comics Journal website

For f*^&5 sake everybody knows that it's a blog, not a journal. Gary Groth? Sounds like a Stan Lee character! With the ability to be NOT AS GOOD AS COMICS VANGUARD AT INTERVIEWING CLASSY PEOPLE LIKE JAMES ASMUS AND FRED VAN LENTE!!

The Comics Reporter, produced by Tom Spurgeon

This is ridiculous. Tom Spurgeon may be many things - a better writer than me, taller, smarter, better at networking, stronger at interviews, quicker to get scoops.... I've lost track of things. I bet he wishes he could get occasional thanks from writers like Paul Cornell after writing a positive review of their latest comics and then spam-linking it to them on Twitter!! COMICS VANGUARD WILL NOT STAND FOR THE INJUSTICE OF EXCLUSION

TwoMorrows Publications

It's spelt TOMORROW! And you can never have TWO of them! There is only ever a single morrow on the horizon!

I'm not bitter about this but in all fairness it IS a f*^%$ng disgrace which taints America forever by association.

The Danger Club Splits Up

In stark contrast to the good natured Halycon & Thunderfoot, today brings a new series from Image called 'The Danger Club', in which we see a society without any adult role models but plenty of cocky children. After a mission in space apparently kills off every adult superhero on Earth, the planet comes to be ruled by the dominant sidekicks - teenagers, children, who are quick to establish a 'Lord of the Flies'-style moral dystopia in the absence of their parents, teachers, and guardians. In the wake of this adultocalypse, some sidekicks have decided to try and keep the World in order. Many others have attempted to claim themselves God.

Created by Landry Walker and Eric Jones - who have formerly worked together on all-ages titles like Supergirl for DC - for Image, The Danger Club is a thoroughly brutal action comic, pitting sidekick against sidekick in a no-holds barred battle for the attention of the planet. The comic is utterly unforgiving in the way the kids fight each other, bringing to mind a bubblegum version of Battle Royale as the first issue moves forwards. But there's more to it than that, as the series gets into fascinating moral territory almost immediately, and never holds up. The protagonists are the remaining members of a supergroup called 'The Danger Club', who now find themselves poised in a battle against one of their group - the elegant, eloquent Apollo - who is trying to establish himself as supreme ruler of the World. To that extent, they race in during a grand speech he's delivering and engage him.

There's not much story to the series yet - there's evidentally a rather large backstory in place which will probably be revealed in bits and pieces as the book continues onwards - but the characters are already starting to stand out. There's no dignity in the fight, which is conveyed blisteringly by Jones' pencils. And although many of the characters seem to borrown several elements from other, more famous characters (hilariously, one has an eye missing and smokes a cigar at all times), they all speak with identificable, realistic voices. They sounds like children, and not like extensions of the author. While the comic itself is more or less a giant fight scene with little hints at a greater world being build elsewhere, the density of the fight is what makes the issue worthwhile.

And the climax is brilliant in the way it leaves readers questioning everything. Which side is heroic, and who should we be rooting for? Should we approve of the methods used, or what? The Danger Club shows a lot of promise within its portrayal of a madcap, yet brutal, action sequence. Keep an eye on it.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Halcyon & Tenderfoot #1

The first of a four-issue miniseries written by Daniel Clifford and drawn by Lee Robinson, Halycon and Tenderfoot has the feel of early issues of Invincible, with an irresistably simple premise bolstered by fresh, likeable characters. The series follows a superhero called Halcyon as he introduces the world to his new sidekick, the super-speedy Tenderfoot - at the same time hiding the fact that Tenderfoot is actually his son. After announcing themselves to the general public, they then go home and prepare themselves for the inevitable supervillain backlash. And that comes quickly, in the form of a bearded (therefore villainous) man called Davis who has a metal hand. Which, y'know, is also a sign of impending treachery.

H&T is an all-ages comic, but only in the sense that there's no swearing or gritty violence to be found. This works in favour of the comic, as it raises the stakes for everything else. There's no mass-murder or brutal fighting going on here, which means when something does go wrong, it feels much more important and dangerous for the two heroes. While other comics go all-out to portray massive crime, Clifford carefully makes sure that the story stays relatively grounded. To do so, he has to work hard on establishing the bond between the two heroes, and make them feel like an actual father and son. There's quite a bit of DNA taken from The Incredibles in the book as a result, as we're watching a father/son duo attempt to work together when they're both approaching the idea of crimefighting from completely different places. But it works, because the approach feels fresh and (most importantly) fun.

While the book does use a lot of well-worn ideas as part of the story, it's the way that the creative team approach them which makes the book so entertaining. While we've seen an over-enthusiastic sidekick race straight into trouble before, Clifford twists the resulting hostage situation into an unexpected final page, and leaves the characters in a genuinely worrying place. The villain, as well, seems obvious at first, but the scene where he leaves jail, mother in tow, is a weird quirk which also works well to establish just how mean-spirited he is. This is all brought vividly to life by Robinson's bright, bouncy artwork, which excels in the action sequences. Robinson creates a series of entertaining characters for the story, with expressive, manic faces and smart use of off-kilter perspective which gives readers the chance to see things through the eyes of Thunderfoot. The creative team have a spark which keeps the story firing forward, with character moments and grounded action scenes combining with melodramatic villainy and noble heroism to create a comic which feels vibrant and new, even while telling one of the oldest stories there is.

You can read the issue as a digital download online at, and subscribe to the rest of the series if it suits your desire. There's also an issue #0 available, which I'd highly recommend, too. Halcyon and Tenderfoot is a fun, accessible story, and well worth picking up.

Monday, 2 April 2012

X-Men Legacy: Rogue is Neurotic and Other Stories

Christos Gage's takeover of X-Men Legacy has slowly started to reveal a new purpose for the book. Formerly about Rogue taking various members of the student population and helping them develop their powers one arc at a time, the book now seems to have more of a focus on bringing in guest-stars from elsewhere. Essentially, X-Men Legacy is now X-Men Team-Up, but for Wolverine's side of the equation. It's something we seem to have an awful lot of at the moment, with Victor Gischler's X-Men and Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning's New Mutant both taking the same approach. So how does Gage do it different?

Well, the book is more central, for one thing. While the New Mutants and X-Men lineups have both been fairly arbitrary and difficult to lock down over the past year or so, X-Men Legacy has a core cast and location for Gage to work outwards from. Rogue, Gambit, Rachel Grey and Frenzy form a centre, which feels grounded and interesting. Their history as characters makes them a more relevant choice for the 'team-up' title than any of the others. They're all so defined that it doesn't matter too much if the guest-stars take a spotlight.

The guest-stars for the current arc are the remaining members of the Dark X-Men, Mimic and Weapon Omega. Neither of them particularly interesting characters in their own right, Gage manages to leap on the only smart point of them - their power-sets, which mirror the one Rogue has. He eagerly connects the three together, somewhat literally by the end of this most recent issue, and gets some new ideas out from Rogue in the process. Rogue has been the central problem with X-Men Legacy for maybe a year now, as her emotional state has become borderline insipid. Obsessed with the men in her life, none of whom she seems to have any sexual chemistry with anymore, her various neurosies drag down the book whenever she brings them into play. While it's nice to see her reflecting on the death of Nightcrawler, or sympathising with Mimic's plight, her lack of joy is painful to read about.

This is a woman who used to gleefully punch tanks and abuse Ms Marvel on a regular basis, and now she's sitting in quiet rooms, talking to herself, and filing her nails down. She's become dull, and Gage has inherited the task of making her entertaining again. It's one which he is struggling with, but has been showing some signs of patching up. Meanwhile, though, there is a second terrible romantic story going on between Frenzy and Gambit, which also isn't doing either characters any favours. While the premise of the book has such a solid lock on the cast and setting, the romantic subplots and threatening to completely tank it.

But anyway, Weapon Omega and Mimic arrive at the school looking for help, and the teaching staff do their best to get to the heart of it. After dealing with Exodus for the last story and now picking up on a Paul Cornell story from a few years ago, it looks like X-Men Legacy is currently attempting to cut off a few dangling plot points before AvX kicks in and the book gets taken off in a new direction. Hopefully Gage will be able to really stamp his feet into the series before that happens, and forces the book to pick things up a few gears, before it gets dragged down into the mud alongside the other X-Men team-up titles. There's promise, but it's coming along very slowly at the moment.

Emerald City Comic-Con Roundup

The mainstream industry is still busy working out if Gambit is stronger than Iron Man, meaning that this past weekend's Emerald City Comic-Con belonged to the small-presses. There were numerous announcements made at the event, many of them relating to new books being published by unexpected people. Here's a short roundup of who's doing what, with whom, and for why.

Sunset for Christos Gage

Top Cow have announced that they will be releasing their first-ever original graphic novel later this year, as Sunset by Christos Gage and Jorge Lucas is set to reach stores in July. A hard-man noir which Clint Eastwood is probably dying to turn into a film someday, the story is about a man who pulled off his 'one last heist' successfully and settled down to enjoy it. But when forces from his past wreck that life and kill his wife, he decided to go on a suicide mission to bring down the people who're trying to destroy him. Top Cow will be publishing a comic-sized version of the story, clipping the first twenty or so pages, on the same day as the OGN itself. So fans can essentially try it before they buy it.

Dark Horse Comics to publish Bucko

Jeff Parker and Erica Moen's webcomic moves into print in September, as Dark Horse have agreed to collect the just-wrapped series into trade. Ostensibly a murder-mystery, Bucko quickly went off the rails and started going into bizarre, hilarious tangents which ended up with gypsy queens and all kinds of bondage nonsense.

Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

Image comics will be publishing a new series by creators Tim Seeley and Mike Norton in July. A noir set in Wisconsin, the book focuses on a single police officer as she attempts to keep the crimes rates down in a small town where, hey, the dead have started coming back to life, a little. Seeley will write and Norton will draw.

Scott Pilgrim in Colour

The original Scott Pilgrim books were released by Oni Press in black and white, which kept it feeling similar in tone to manga but also meant a few of the more subtle plot points - like Ramona's glowing head - were hard for readers to pick up on. Well, in August the series will begin to be published in full-colour, with the work done by Nathan Fairbarn. The original black and white series will remain in publication, however, giving readers the opportunity to collect whichever set they wish.

Tony Harris brings Roundeye to Image

A long-gestating project which was funded by Kickstarter, Tony Harris' Roundeye is a comic which fans have been eagerly anticipating for years. A samurai story which is essentially a love-letter to Harris' wife, the book will be a six-issue series, with a hardcover coming later on in the year.