Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Putting Together the Pieces

Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 2 (Marvel, 2015, $19.99)
Vol. 1 of the collected Alias was good enough that I saw fit to pick up the second volume in rather short order. This volume collects #11-15, originally published as part of Marvel's Max comics line in 2002-2003 and featuring writing by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Michael Gaydos, covers and additional art by David Mack, and additional art by Mark Bagley and Rodney Ramos.

Jones travels to Lago, New York, to investigate a missing persons case. The dialogue pacing and wordless storyboard-like panel sequences are TV ready, and it is the pacing and weight of the comic that makes this such an enjoyable read. Jones, over the course of the arc, solves a mystery—something we don't often see in mainstream comics. She interviews suspects and witnesses. She discovers clues. And she puts together the pieces... all while living a relatively flawed and challenging life at the same time.

The anti-mutant bigotry that plays a role in this arc—and was alluded to in the previous volume—is particularly relevant given the current climate of insensitivity and less-than-veiled hatred of the other, be it related to race, religion, gender identity, or sexual preference.

I don't know what the rest of the Max comics line was like—I've always thought it was grittier Daredevil and Punisher comics—but if they're anything like Alias, it's good stuff. Maybe even like the newer Hard Case Crime comics such as Normandy Gold, only with occasional panties and capes.

Availability: Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 2 is currently available.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Soldiers Are Never Alone

Bloodshot's Day Off #1 (Valiant, July 2017, $3.99)
I've never read many Valiant comics but remember when the line was first introduced in 1989. I've been intrigued by the universe and characters but never really explored them until recently, with the recent renaissance of titles.

I'm sure this one shot and lead in to the forthcoming Bloodshot Salvation series (this issue includes a five-page sneak preview) isn't your usual Bloodshot comic, but it is a fun read all the same.

Bloodshot is a kind of near-invincible super soldier. There's more than one, and they're drawn from different eras, despite their similar appearance. Tank Man, for example, comes from World War II, while Viet Man was created during... you guessed it!

This one shot's gambit is that the two fore-named Bloodshots are both given furlough days. Despite their different background and experiences, they end up spending their days in very similar ways: revisiting the past of their families, tying off loose ends, and in the end, remembering that soldiers are never alone.

It's a worthy sentiment, and Eliot Rahal's writing and Khari Evans's artwork carry the message well. Similarly, the sneak preview written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Lewis LaRosa bodes well for the new series. Be sure to check it out—Valiant seems to be on the upswing.

Availability: You can order this online from Comixology. Bloodshot U.S.A. collects Lemire's previous Bloodshot series.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Space Pirates

The Black Sable #1 (Zenescope, September 2017, $3.99)
This was an impulse purchase. I haven't read any other Zenescope books such as Grimm Fairy Tales, Van Helsing, or Robyn Hood, but this space pirate series written by Joe Brusha and drawn by Sergio Arino attracted me with its dual-mooned, swashbuckling, scene-setting cover.

The story is pretty standard space adventure. Pirates led by the Black Sable, a female captain, vie for fortune in the space ways against the Corporation. After freeing some slaves and sending them home, the crew heads to the Oasis for some rest and relaxation. There, Sable meets Blake, an old lover and foil.

As a first issue, this edition largely establishes the framework for the series: the world and how it works, the main characters, and the various groups competing for fame and fortune in that setting. I'm not sure it'll hold my interest, but it was a solid introduction to the new series—and a good first exposure to this publishing company.

Availability: You can order this issue direct from Zenescope or online via Comixology.

A Cartoon Bombshell

Fritzi Ritz Comics #6 (United Feature Syndicate, 1949, 10 cents)
Fritzi Ritz is the beautiful and leggy aunt of Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip creation Nancy. This comic largely collects single-page gag strips (reformatted newspaper comics) featuring Fritzi, her boyfriend Phil Fumble, and other characters—with a center section of six one-page Abbie an' Slats strips by Raeburn Van Buren.

The humor focuses on Phil's affection for Fritzi and her attention from other suitors, Phil giving the eye to other gals, the giving of gifts, taking a long time to dress for a date, the need for exercise, and other gentle cleverness. One strip even includes a single-panel Nancy cameo.

Bushmiller's art and writing is just crackerjack. The jokes are loving and positive, and his artwork is great. While Nancy and Sluggo are simple and cartoony, his attention to Fritzi and the other good-girl characters in these strips is more attentive to detail, the fine line of various fashions, and the female form. Fritzi is kind of a cartoon bombshell.

The section of Abbie an' Slats is an excellent counterpoint. The strip is more of an adventure story, with more realistic artwork. Groggins heads to Boomistan to spend a found attic trove of "droopees," only to remember how he acquired them and realize he's not welcome in the country. It's a promising story—and a strip with which I was not familiar. Van Buren's art reminded me a little of Milton Caniff by way of Al Capp.

What a great comic this was. It was refreshing to see Fritzi away from Nancy—and strongly shows that comic strips can attract varying age groups—as well as support multiple levels of storylines.

Availability: While the Fritzi Ritz comic strip—which actually predated Nancy—is not currently in print, you might find back issues. Nancy comic strips are available in several volumes, including Nancy Is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1945 (Vol. 1)Nancy Likes Christmas: Complete Dailies 1946-1948 (Vol. 2), and Nancy Loves Sluggo: Complete Dailies 1949-1951. Ken Pierce Books's Abbie an' Slats reprint volume is still available.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Learning to Cope

Black Hammer #10, 12 (Dark Horse, June and August 2017, $3.99)
Winner of the 2017 Eisner Award for Best New Series, Black Hammer is a wonderful comic written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Dean Ormston or David Rubin. It's a slightly retro take on superheroes, somewhat in the style of Alan Moore, if not the tone. The general gist of the series is a group of superheroes is trapped in a pocket universe or dimension and learning how to cope with their new day-to-day existence, shades of a Twilight Zone episode.

Abraham Slam remembers an ill-fated new uniform back in his Spiral City days. His new girlfriend Tammy has a run in with her jealous ex-husband. Barbalien misinterprets a friend's intentions (or doesn't).

In #12, Black Hammer's daughter becomes old enough to be entrusted with access to her father's secret hideout. Rubin's artwork serves this flashback well, and I look forward to seeing how it ties into the rest of the story.

I'm not surprised this comic won the Eisner. Lemire is one of the better comics writers active today, and the characters in this series are just astounding. The back-and-forth storytelling showing the connections between past and present is quite effective. And the overall tone is one of memory and mystery—each issue eagerly awaited to see what happens next as the heroes lost in time and space try to return home... and conspire against each other so doing.

Availability: Black Hammer #10 will be reprinted in Black Hammer Volume 2: The Event, expected in January 2018. Otherwise, #10 and 12 are available online.

The Expected Return of the Green Goblin

Amazing Spider-Man #27, 29-32 (Marvel, July-November 2017, $3.99)
Over the course of my life as a comics reader—and some back issues in my collection suggest that I was reading comics at the age of 4—the Amazing Spider-Man has remained my favorite superhero, with this title perhaps my favorite superhero title. The current run has maintained my interest and preference, and some really interesting things continue to happen in the series.

Written by Dan Slott, with art by Stuart Immonen or Greg Smallwood and inks by Wade von Grawbadger or Smallwood, these issues feature covers by Alex Ross—a treat for this character and series. While some creative pairings handle Spider-Man in a cartoony and flip manner, this artistic team brings an excellent seriousness to the title.

Norman Osborn is back, aiding a revolution in Symkaria. Spider-Man is there with the Silver Sable and her new Wild Pack to protect the civilians and end the struggle. In several Secret Empire (which I've yet to read) tie-in issues, Spider-Man finds that Parker Industries has been infiltrated by Hydra, led by the returned Doctor Octopus, who actually engineered the rise and success of the company while the Superior Spider-Man.

Parker declines to give up his company and travels to Shanghai to seek assistance from the branch there, only to draw Doc Ock's attention again. How Spider-Man defeats Ock is quite surprising and delightful.

We end this review set with #32, a standalone transitional issue that moves us from the return of Norman Osborn toward the expected return of the Green Goblin. Smallwood's art is of a similarly serious stye as Immonen, lending a welcome darkness to this moody issue. Similar to Doctor Strange's origin story, Osborn looks for a way to return to the Goblin, traveling to the Temple with No Name. How Slott handled the issue's unfolding and revelations was very enjoyable. This was an excellent, excellent issue.

Availability: Amazing Spider-Man #27 was reprinted in Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide Vol. 6.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Value and Power of Monuments

All-Star Batman #9 (DC, 2017, $4.99)
I usually don't read this series, but a relatively recent issue reference in another Batman title inspired the completist in me to pick it up. With heavier cover stock, a higher cover price, and writing by Scott Snyder, and art and cover—an awesome cover!—by Jock, All-Star Batman is a prestige format comic that makes good on its promise.

Batman, the Blackhawks, and Ra's Al Ghul collide in our nation's capital. The combat between Al Ghul and Bruce Wayne with a bayoneted musket rifle is a clever use of old weaponry. Al Ghul's commentary on the metaphorical value and power of monuments, and his using the Washington Monument as a broadcast antenna are also innovative ideas.

This issue also features a backup story written by Snyder that features the art of Francesco Francavilla, Dynamite Comics's favorite Italian. The story serves as a lead in to Dark Days: The Forge.

Availability: All-Star Batman #9 was reprinted in All-Star Batman Vol. 2: Ends of the Earth.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Worst of Human Nature

Action Comics #985-987 (DC, October-November 2017, $2.99-$3.99)
DC's issue numbers, just like Marvel's, have all gone to heck with the recent rash of reboots and renumbering (New 52, Rebirth, etc.). Not long ago, however, select titles—including Action Comics—have returned to their original numbering as they approach #1000. Personally, I think that's a good thing. Regardless of whether a publisher frequently reboots or renumbers, I encourage all publishers to keep track of and make explicit the ongoing whole number of a title. Or, be more honest about volume numbers and keep that apace with the reboots. Keeping track of titles based on year of reboot is confusing and unnecessary.

Written by Rob Williams (#985-986) and Dan Jurgens (#987) and drawn by Guillem March (#985-986) and Viktor Bogdanovic (#987), these three issues include parts of two story arcs: "Only Human" and "The Oz Effect." In "Only Human," around the world, people and animals are being controlled by the Machinist using technology appropriated from Lexcorp. The militarized elephants and tigers are a fun concept, as is the combat between a power-suited (Apokoliptan tech!) Lex Luther—under the thrall of the Machinist—and Supes.

#987, then, with its unnecessary lenticular cover—can we please stop with the lenticular covers?—apparently draws to a head an ongoing plot thread that I'm just now exposed to: Mr. Oz. Having missed the teasers and build up, I don't want to give too much away, so suffice to say that Mr. Oz is a mysterious costumed figure wielding a scythe of sorts who seems intent on drawing out the worst of human nature in an attempt to persuade Superman that the human race isn't worth protecting. This issue reveals who Mr. Oz actually is, and if you read any of the comics leading up to this, you might be shocked or surprised. Personally, I'm confused and intrigued, so I look forward to next issue's secret origin.

It's quite fun to see Hallie Bulleit, Bill Florio, Mikey Erg, and other members of the house band for The Chris Gethard Show in ads for the TruTV series. The faux vintage covers featuring Harley Quinn to celebrate 25 years of that character is nice work by Ryan Sook. But a crossover series featuring Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy meeting Archie Comics's Betty and Veronica? Whoah.

Availability: Action Comics #985, 986, and 987 have yet to be collected. (You can buy them online or as back issues, however.) Mr. Oz's appearance in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 has been collected in Rebirth Omnibus, Vol. 1.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Noir Gravity

Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2015, $24.99)
I am just getting around to watching the now not-so-new-anymore Marvel shows on Netflix, starting with Jessica Jones. I'm starting with this program—rather than Daredevil or Luke Cagebecause, while it was the second series aired by Netflix, it was a character I wasn't familiar with; and because of the actress Krysten Ritter, whose role on Breaking Bad, while short-lived, was excellent.

After an episode or two of the series, I was intrigued enough to go to the comics, so here I am reading Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1, which collects #1-9 of Alias, originally published by Marvel as part of its Max Comics. Truth be told, this is also my first exposure to Max, which I initially avoided entirely because I didn't really need to read "mature" comics published by Marvel. (There are already plenty of mature comics already available!) And I didn't feel the need to explore the seamier side of Marvel's street-level heroes. Boy, did I miss out at the time!

Featuring writing by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Michael Gaydos, covers by David Mack (Kabuki!), and additional art by Bill Sienkiewicz, the comic series is more Max Allan Collins-like noir adventure than superhero fare, regardless of ones's previous heroism as Jewel and membership in the Avengers.

Having seen the show before reading the comic, I couldn't help but look for continuity parallels while reading. While it's clear that the series draws on the comics, its plot has already taken on a life of its own, which makes for better reading and viewing.

As a comic, the book holds together very well. The superhero cameos—even if merely in memento photographs or on TV—grounds the story in the Marvel Universe, and the mysteries Jones endeavors to solve often don't rely on her past superhero work. That said, the appearance of Matt Murdock as her attorney and Carol Danvers as her friend are pleasant character-development moments. Bendis's writing is excellent. Sections have the rapid-fire patter of the dialogue of a police procedural TV program, and the quieter, slower sequences have a thoughtfulness and weight to them that helps maintain the noir gravity of the book.

This is a serious comic. There are serious crimes, serious risk, serious violence, serious relationship issues, serious life problems—including Jones's alcoholism. Bendis's treatment of Jones's drinking is respectful and true to life. This isn't the slurring swagger of a bewhiskered Tony Stark, this is daily functional alcoholism. Jones drinks too much, makes bad decisions—including sleeping with the main character of another Netflix series—and carries the weight of her hangover to work the next day.

As the comic continues, hopefully we'll learn why she drinks so much—but for now, it's background noise and traveling music that only makes an already difficult life more difficult.

Availability: Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1 is currently available.

Friday, October 20, 2017

An All-New Direction

Namor, the Sub-Mariner #1 (Marvel, April 1990, $1)
"Purpose!" Written and drawn: John Byrne, Inked: Bob Wiacek, Colors: Glynis Oliver, Letters: Ken Lopez, Editor: Terry Kavanagh, Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco.

Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner ranks among the earliest of the current Marvel superheroes, dating back to 1939 and Marvel Comics #1 (as well as an earlier free pamphlet distributed at movie theaters!). This series was "an all-new direction" for the character and pulled out all the stops with John Byrne writing and drawing.

Carrie Alexander and her father, Caleb, are somewhere in the South Pacific when they encounter Namor, thought to be dead—and unable to keep his thoughts straight. He interrupts some natives, a cargo cult, perhaps, before meeting the Alexanders, who take him to their boat and help him recover. In turn, he asks for their help starting an environmental protection organization. At the end of the issue, Desmond and Phoebe Marrs are introduced. Wealthy and dissolute business people, the siblings are sure to become foils as the series develops.

Byrne's writing and artwork is well done, and he draws a straight line to the character's history by recounting Namor's origin story. There are also blood rage-fueled cameos by Lady Dorma and Marrina. On the whole, a respectable reintroduction of a storied historic hero.

References: Fantastic Four Annual #1.

Namor, the Sub-Mariner #2 (Marvel, May 1990, $1)
"Eagle's Wing and Lion's Claw" Written and penciled: John Byrne, Inked: Bob Wiacek, Colored: Brad Vancata, Lettered: Ken Lopez, Edited: Terry Kavanagh, Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco.

After the reintroduction of Namor in the previous issue, this edition is a bit of a letdown. A lot seems to have happened between issues, but not much actually happens in this issue.

Carrie is pensive about Namor's affection before the Griffin, "some kind of flying creature," abducts her. Namorita informs Namor, who uses the TV news and geometry to locate the kidnaped Carrie... at the Statue of Liberty of all places. The Griffin proves a formidable opponent. The Marrs siblings make an appearance, as does a mysterious, pale-skinned, bespectacled woman.

Regardless, the issue is predominantly chase and fight scene, an odd pacing choice so soon after #1.

Availability: Namor, the Sub-Mariner #1-2 are reprinted in Namor Visionaries—John Byrne, Vol. 1.

Men Sculpted into Monsters

Master of Kung Fu #110 (Marvel, March 1982, 60 cents)
"Perilous Reign" Script/Plot: Doug Moench, Pencils/Plot: Gene Day, Inker: Jack Abel, Letterer: Jim Novak, Colorist: C. Scheele, Editor: Ralph Macchio, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

During a rain storm at Nayland Smith's Stormhaven Castle in England, Shang-Chi and Leiko Wu spar in more ways than one. Smith, Soviet defector Mia Lessing (the Dark Angel blurbed at the end of #106; #107-109 might contain her introductory story arc) discuss a new threat with Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston. A Russian trained in the Chinese martial art style Naked Kill called the Ghost Maker plans to procure "a new and extremely deadly weapon" from a secret base in the Sussex moors. While Mia and Clive engage in some hanky panky, Shang-Chi, Leiko, and Black Jack aim to stop him.

This issue is dense in text; Moench's story expounds on balancing Eastern and Western philosophies, respecting your fully by fully engaging with them when you spend time together, the Ghost Maker's back story, as well as his motivations. But it works. It is exactly the right amount of tet.

Day's artwork and page design—inked by Jack Abel—accommodates the writing well. In addition to the dominant imagery, page anchors, and motion through panels noticed in previous issues, Day also employs book ending to position characters against each other. He also incorporates the yin-yang symbol to further represent duality, borders a panel in blood, and frames a panel in the word "danger." When it rains, it rains hard, and when things go vertical, you can feel the vertiginous heights. Quite innovative!

The lettercol "Missives to the Master" includes another letter from T.M. Maple, as well as a postal service statement of ownership. In September 1981, Marvel printed almost 250,000 copies of that given issue.

Master of Kung Fu #117 (Marvel, October 1982, 60 cents)
"Devil Deeds Done in Darkness" Scripter: Doug Moench, Penciler and Inker: Gene Day, Colorist: Christie Scheele, Letterer: Janice Chang, Editor: Ralph Macchio, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

This issue is a doozy. Not only is Fu Manchu himself prominently featured, but Day's artwork really rocks. Highlights include a two-page spread of an M.C. Escher-like maze of stairs and statues, panels within a panel as Shang-Chi and Death-Dealer plummet in the flooding crypt, and an excellent page in which Shang-Chi navigates additional stairs and encounters three laboratory-spawned creatures, "men sculpted into monsters." Day also book ends a scene change on a two-page spread and throws in a fun ballet form as Dark Angel fights Shang-Chi.

The plot entails Shang-Chi escaping from his father with the help of hungry rats, the destruction of Clive Reston's home, and Nayland Smith's abduction. What a wonderful comic series. I am glad I finally actually read some issues! I will have to read more.

Availability: Master of Kung Fu #110 and #117 are reprinted in Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 4.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

An Entire House of Assassins

Master of Kung Fu #105 (Marvel, October 1981, 50 cents)
"The Razor-Fist Connection" Writer: Doug Moench, Artist: Gene Day, Colors: C. Scheele, Letters: Jim Novak, Editors: Denny O'Neil and Jim Shooter.

The hero of the comic book is one Shang-Chi, son of Dr. Fu Manchu, and the series features supporting characters created by Sax Rohmer, who wrote 13 Fu Manchu novels between 1913 and 1959. This might be the first issue of this series that I've read despite having several in my collection. For some reason, I'd neglected it as a Bruce Lee knockoff and didn't know about the Rohmer connection. That connection is important. This title's pulp fiction lineage mught make it one of the longest-running tie-in or licensed comics, among Conan the BarbarianRom, and Star Wars.

The highlight of the issue is Gene Day's artwork. His line is quite fine; he can pack a lot into a panel without making it overly dense. But it is Day's sense of motion that impresses. Be it a person walking around another over the course of several panels, Shang-Chi jumping over a wall or his enemy Razor-Fist in combat, or Razor-Fist's blade slicing through air, Day's artwork is cinematic in style. He also knows how to anchor a page: the reflection of an anguished face, Pavane centered on an explosion, or Juliette sitting in a wicker (rattan?) chair. Day's figures move through the panels, and the panels move through the page.

As for story, Razor-Fist, working for the reportedly dead Carlton Velcro, search for Shen Kuei, Pavane, and Shang-Chi. He leaves Hong Kong for London, where he finds the latter two, as well as Leiko Wu. There are also parallel subplots detailing the background of Velcro and Razor-Fist, and an exchange between former MI-6 operative Nayland Smith and Fah Lo Suee, daughter of Fu Manchu.

The story is solid, even dropping in at #105, and Day's artwork is wonderful. The letter column features a note from T.M. Maple, whose comments are among the best in fan activity.

Master of Kung Fu #106 (Marvel, November 1981, 50 cents)
"The Assassin Master" Writer: Doug Moench, Artist: Gene Day, Inker: Armando Gil, Colorist: C. Scheele, Letter: Jim Novak, Editor: Denny O'Neil, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

Another excellent issue featuring the artwork of Gene Day, this time with Armando Gil inks, a worthy combination.

After questioning Razor-Fist with Pavane, Shang-Chi and Leiko Wu continue to the Marquesas in search of Carlton Velcro's island base, "an entire house of assassins." They reach the mansion and take on Velcro's guards, then face another Razor-Fist (!!!) and Velcro himself, who proves himself a most disappointing employer.

Day's hallmark fluid motion throughout the page and dominant page anchors are wonderful, and the story resolves well.

Availability: Master of Kung Fu #105-106 are reprinted in Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 4.