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Imperium #1 [Review]

imperium001Imperium I: Overture

Writer: Joshua Dysart
Art: Doug Braithwaite
Colors: Brian Reber & Dave McCaig
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Raul Allen
Editors: Alejandro Arbona, Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve been looking forward to this, but on first reading found myself rather let-down. Consciously, analyzing, I can see it’s quite a good story. But this readily suffers from being only one PIECE of a singular, larger story. I read this in a mostly intentional “vacuum,” I’ve pointedly NOT kept up with spoilers, interviews, solicitations (other than seeing THAT an issue would be out), and all that, so where Harbinger ran 25 issues and ended to make way for the Harbinger: Omegas mini-series and now this…as well as Valiant in large part seeming to be moving toward limited-series over long-term ongoing stuff, I haven’t a clue if this is going to be a 4, 5, or 6 issue story; if it’s a mini-series or quasi-ongoing, or what. I see no “of X” with the number so would assume it may be an ongoing or at least a multi-arc/multi-volume series when it’s all collected…but most folks know what “they” say about “assume.”

There’s also a several-page insert in the middle of the issue, an Imperium Prelude, that I’d have to check recent not-yet-read Valiant issues I’ve gotten and keep an eye out in others this month to see if they have it, too. But its placement completely interrupted the flow of the story for me, taking me out of stuff and leaving me distracted more than engaged, and sent my mind toward thinking about other events, whether or not this is “just” an event, and so on. For this issue at least, I think that either should have been left out…or should have actually been placed at the beginning. Moreso, I think it should have been a separate piece altogether, perhaps a promo thing to be given out at comic shops as a 4-paged comic or such to promote this series. (I may even go so far as to rip it out of this issue and file it ahead of this in a box).

We open with Darpan, as an old man, traveling  about a clean, utopian future (well, to those of us reading this in 2015, anyway). He then finds his mine drawn back, and wakes in the present to realize he’d psychically experienced a lifetime in a “dream” projected from Harada. Harada gives Darpan and the others gathered a speech about how they must now adopt different tactics in bringing about the utopian vision he was granted by the Bleeding Monk. However, terrible things will need to be done to get to the end result…and that does not seem to sit well with everyone involved. Harada begins by staking claim to his own territory…putting himself at odds with the planet and the various different people–such as Aric, X-O Manowar–who will certainly come after him.

My initial griping above left aside, and “digging in” while thinking further on this issue, it IS a good issue and a solid start to a series. We’re shown a future, and then the present with people who want to move the world into that future vision. We’re introduced to several characters along with Toyo Harada himself and shown where they stand…undoubtedly some foreshadowing for coming conflict. And for whatever it might say about me personally, there’s both an authenticity to Harada’s end-goal and a part of me that would like to see him achieve it (as long as I don’t have to think too much about what he’ll have to do to get there).

If you’ve read Harbinger and/or Harbinger: Omegas, this is the next “phase” of the overall, ongoing story begun there. Despite that, as much as any such series is, Imperium #1 stands as a decently-accessible jumping-on point. You’ll benefit from the added context of reading Harbinger and Omegas, but you can jump into this pretty well by itself.

I like the art throughout the book…and thanks to the distraction from the placement of the prelude pages, I actually didn’t get distracted by the art itself or find anything really to complain about. It’s a high quality style, realistic without being overly so, plenty of detail over skimping…and quite familiar to me, having read other Valiant stuff with art from Braithwaite.

I’ve enjoyed Dysart‘s Valiant stuff and the “whole” of his stories tend to wind up larger than the parts. Paired with Braithwaite‘s art, this is one of the higher-quality not-exactly-superhero/not-exactly-NOT-superhero books out there…and well worth checking out. Alternatively, I’m confident this will make a very good reading experience in collected-edition format, whether it’s one volume or several.

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Rai #1 [Review]

Rai #1 Plus EditionWelcome to New Japan

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clayton Crain
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Associate Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99 ($4.99 “Plus Edition”)

This is–even more than Unity–probably my most-anticipated new release title from Valiant. And while I normally avoid variant editions like a plague, I wound up picking up the “Plus Edition” when I found it a couple days after having bought/read the regular edition.

On the whole, I mostly prefer the regular edition…the only really worthwhile (to me) part of the “Plus” material was the map of Japan 4001 A.D. that gives a lot of detail to the various levels of the future country that can’t possibly fit in-story (at least not in a single issue). I really don’t care whatsoever for the “bonus” Spylocke stuff, and would have been quite content leaving that to what it was in the regular edition. The “selling point” of the “Plus Edition” is that these 16 pages of material won’t be reprinted in the collected edition…though somehow, I can’t see the map going for long without inclusion, as it could prove a very useful bit of information to have (at least in the eventual deluxe edition hardcover). I groused last year about DC‘s “poster” fold-out from Superman Unchained #1 and how that seemed pointless…seeing this map, this (again, to me) is exactly the sort of thing worthy of being a poster fold-out!

The bulk of the issue itself is focused on the fact that for the first time in a thousand years, a murder has been committed. This leads to the involvement of Rai–a guardian of Japan. Our viewpoint character is someone curious to see Rai “live,” to see this legendary figure, and we get a fair bit of context from her narration before we shift to getting the same from Rai himself.

This issue felt rather immersive, as I just sort of got lost in the reading and the exploration of this futuristic Japan. I was certainly influenced by knowledge of the classic version of Rai from the ’90s Valiant universe and what I’ve come to know of that version of the character. It’s that knowledge that made me all the more curious about what I’d find here, and to see what would be done with the character. As with many first issues, I found myself taking this in much as I would a tv show I was checking out–I recognize where we may have been introduced to supporting characters, though with only a single “episode” there’s little telling what will last and what’s just setup outside of the title character himself.

The story certainly interests me–I’m very much looking forward to the next issue–but I can’t just rattle off names of characters or anything on the initial read-through and re-perusal.

Visually, this is a beautiful issue–I really like the character designs, and nothing stood out to me as distraction. The art just fits the story and has something about it that just fits the title, the character, and the overall concept. It’s got a realism to it that I like but it still manages to be recognizably a comic and not something trying to be a photonovel or anything of that sort.

I don’t touch on covers (other than grousing about variants) as much as I ought, but this cover is–to me–possibly the most “iconic” of the Valiant issues this year, and probably for the entire current run of the publisher. The title logo is properly familiar yet simple and new; the cover image is really only about half the cover, but is nicely offset by the white bar with the logo (regular edition) and offset by black on the plus edition (which I like slightly better). The cover design itself is eye-catching and shows all the issue’s information clearly (publisher, issue #, title, creators) with a striking image of the main character.

Rai #1 Regular EditionTo me, this is the best of the Valiant launches–the title catches the eye from the cover, the interior is great visually, the story is engaging with a solid balance between divulging necessary information to hook me as a reader while leaving plenty of details to the imagination or future exploration, and simply leaves me quite interested in the next issue. Further strength lies in this being officially set in the Valiant universe, in the same time-period (4001 AD) as the most recent Eternal Warrior arc, and yet you don’t have to have read ANYTHING else from the publisher to “get” this story and its characters. This can be read entirely by itself, as nothing more than a sci-fi story set in a futuristic Japan.

While my ultimate preference would like in a singular edition with no variance in covers and content (even at a $4.99 instead of $3.99 price point), this is about as good as it gets when it comes to first issues these days. Whether you’ve read anything else from Valiant classic or present, if you enjoy sci fi or futuristic stories, or just something with a legendary guardian figure wielding a sword, I highly recommend checking this out, whichever edition you’d find.

Shadowman #12 [Review]

shadowman012Deadside Blues; Lucky Charm; Blackout

Writers: Ales Kot, Christopher Sebela, Duffy Boudreau
Art: Cafu, Matthew Southworth, Diego Bernard, Alejandro Sicat
Colors: Andy Troy, Jose Villarrubia, Ian Hannin
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover Art: Dave Johnson and Kekai Kotaki
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve kinda lost the “flow” of this Shadowman title. Seems we’ve had a definite interruption of the ongoing story: a #0 issue, a “Halloween special,” and now this 3-complete-stories issue, as we await a new creative team that’s taking over.

While I’m all about done-in-one stories, self-contained issues, having 3 such stories in one regular-sized issue is a bit much (or short, depending on how one looks at it). These three seem rather slice-of-life; the simple stuff that’s not that big a challenge. They can’t be a big challenge–there’re only a handful of pages to get to the end of the situation as presented!

Given three stories, I’m not bothered by three visual styles in the issue. None of ’em particularly blew me away, but none struck me as annoying or hard to follow. Solid art doing what the art should do.

The stories themselves are a handful of pages apiece. Nothing particularly wrong with any of them–they all offer a touch of insight into Shadowman. They definitely make this feel like a “filler” issue…I’d’ve much rathered see these presented in place of multi-page “previews” in the back of Valiant‘s books. Original COMPLETE shorts to introduce non-readers of Shadowman to the character, and provide some incentive to Shadowman readers to maybe grab another issue. (Easy enough to suggest as a fan currently buying any/all Valiant singles).

Taken as a whole, I found the issue fairly mediocre. Not bad, but not wonderful; for the moment nothing in it seems particularly germane to anything ongoing. If you’re following the series and not inclined to skip issues, this is worth getting and reading. Though it stands alone in and of itself, readers would likely benefit quite a bit with context from having read earlier issues. If you’re looking for a jumping-in point, it seems the next issue will be the spot to do so.

If I wasn’t currently “all-in” on the Valiant books…I’m pretty sure I’d call it a day for now on the series, myself. As-is, I’m hoping this new creative team picks things up and runs next issue and shows me that I actively want to keep up with this title rather than passively “not drop” it.

Quantum and Woody #5 [Review]

quantumandwoody005Writer: James Asmus
Art: Ming Doyle
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Pin-Up: Tom Fowler and Brian Reber
Cover Art: Andrew Robinson, Lee Garbett, David Lopez, Mike McKone
Letters: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Executive Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

Now that they’ve accepted they’re stuck together…Eric (Quantum) and Woody are sharing Eric’s apartment. Of course, Eric hadn’t counted on Woody ALSO bringing the goat (now named Vincent van Goat) and the “teenage” clone of the woman who murdered their father into the mix. As Eric goes to work and returns the weapons Woody snuck out, he tasks Woody with finding a job. Instead, Woody decides to house-hunt, and winds up losing Eric’s car in the process. Eric meanwhile finds that he’s come to the attention of his boss, who lays out an interesting proposal.

Though I’ve now read all of the original Q&W issues, I’ve never looked all that deeply into them…but at least on the surface, this continues to very much come off as being in the same spirit. The situations are modified, more modern…but this series fits right with the original to me.

I don’t know where the story’s actually going, though I recognize Eric’s boss’s name and so have a certain suspicion there. I do have a better sense of Eric’s annoyance (and Woody’s deservance of being the target of said annoyance) in this series so far. 

The art isn’t bad, though something seems a bit “off” and I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s a bit of a shift, but everyone’s still recognizable and it’s not hard to follow what’s going on.

As a bonus, we get a random pinup page in the back…which is rather amusing in itself, as well as refreshing: it’s a pin-up page, meaning full-page one-page art piece…but get this: it’s NOT A VARIANT COVER! Someone, somewhere, actually remembers that an artist can do a piece of art like this without it HAVING TO BE a VARIANT!

All in all, a good issue, and as billed on the cover, the start of a new arc and thus a better jumping-on point than the previous issue (especially when you consider the first TPB is due out soon at the “bargain” $9.99 price point of all the Valiant vol. 1s). If you’re already following the title, it’s worth continuing. If not, you might be better served grabbing the paperback to read the first/origin story and if you like it, continuing on.

Bloodshot #0 [Review]

bloodshot000Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Chrisscross
Colors: Moose Baumann
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Associate Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

This is the second distinct Bloodshot #0 I’ve read in the last year or so. I read the original 1993 issue last year, and I’ve been looking forward to this new one for awhile now. That’s one thing I definitely like with the current Valiant–they properly promote books without me feeling they’re over-hyped. Since seeing the cover image for this on one of those inserts with the issue checklist on the back, I’ve been curious about the revelation of this Bloodshot’s “true” origin, or at least clarification of the origin.

Reading this, I was surprised at the opening reference to 1992 (which was when the original series began and the original Bloodshot burst onto the scene). Thankfully any reference to the old is tangential/coincidental/”Easter Egg”-y.

This issue shows us several earlier versions of Bloodshot–essentially, the technology was there, but Bloodshot would be so focused on completing his mission that any collateral damage didn’t matter. Project Rising Spirit wanted to find a way to give their warmachine a conscience of sorts, so an outside scientist is brought in. He winds up reprogramming the nanites to not just record memories but to capture “everything”–in the hopes of catching a “soul.” While his results prove questionable, the scientist’s fate is fairly clear, and we as readers are left to draw our own conclusions from what we’ve observed in the previous 13 issues of Bloodshot.

Story-wise I quite enjoyed this. After the last few months of Harbinger Wars and the upcoming addition of HARD Corps to the title, this makes for a nice “interlude” or “break” between major chapters of this character’s existence. Having some light shed on the background is handy for allowing a bit more identification with the character…though I was a bit disappointed that we had no definitive names provided to clarify which (if any) “identities” Bloodshot’s shown are a “one, true” identity.

Visually I found this to be a mixed bag. There was a definite difference from what I’m used to seeing in this title, so it was a little “off” in that regard. Yet, nothing was really “bad” about it, so I can’t really complain. The style is fairly distinctive–I haven’t seen much of ChrisCross‘ art lately, but do remember enjoying his visuals on the late-’90s/early-’00s Captain Marvel series.

I wouldn’t call this a jump-onboard sort of issue, as it doesn’t really lay the groundwork or introduce stuff the way I would expect of a premiere issue. However, for readers who have been along for the ride this is definitely a worthwhile addition to the mythology of Bloodshot, adding some depth that is fairly timeless and allows for a bit of clarification to what we’ve already seen…and will likely yet see. In its own way, if one looks at the retitling as the beginning of a “new series,” this also provides a sort of cap to the first year, filling in some blanks and adding to what we’ve discovered.

Whatever the case, I enjoyed it, and look forward to seeing what else we get with the character, despite shifting creative teams.

Invincible Iron Man #500.1 [Review]

“What it was like, What happened, and What it’s like now”

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Colorist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Senior Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover:
Salvador Larroca
Published by:
Marvel Comics

Tony Stark attends an AA meeting, and shares his story, recounting in the vaguest of terms his history as an alcoholic and how it’s affected him throughout his career. After the meeting, we see how actually talking about things affects Tony.

The story of this issue is really that simple. I had my doubts about the accessibility of this issue, of what would make it such a good jumping-on point. And really, for this character…I can’t think of anything better. Telling his story at an AA meeting is a perfect vehicle for touching on some of the major points of the character’s history and if not exactly explaining everything to new readers, it provides a glimpse of what’s come before, as well as insight into the character–stuff that provides a bit of foundation for new readers, or reminds longer-time readers of where things have come in recent years in particular.

This sort of issue–a “breather” of sorts, a “slice of life” or whatever–where characters have a chance to reflect, to have “down time” and just be themselves without an actively-moving high-action story–this is the sort of issue I am extremely fond of. And yet, while do enjoy this type of issue, it’s not terribly deep nor overly insightful…and really is pretty formulaic.

The art is the usual style and quality–which is a very strong positive in my book. No real complaints from me on the visuals.

The issue ends with a double-page series of panels “previewing” what is to come in the next year in this title…reminding me very much of Booster Gold #1, an issue (or issues?) of JSA, and generally the way DC‘s done things. So it’s nothing fresh or new…and unfortunately, it does all of nothing for me. I don’t even know what it is we’re seeing, and it doesn’t do a thing to hook me or have me particularly interested/excited to see context/details of how the situation(s) come about.

Though this issue–as part of the Marvel.1 “initiative”–is designed to be a jumping-on point, and I’d intended to bail after #500, this also serves as a bit of an epilogue to Fraction‘s run on the character thus far…and if there’s a 2nd omnibus-style hardcover for his run, I would be quite satisfied if it ended with this issue.

Whether looking for a jumping-on or jumping-off point, if you’ve enjoyed any of Fraction/Larroca‘s run or have been curious about the title, I definitely recommend this issue.

Story: 7/10
Art:
8/10
Whole: 7.5/10

Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #4 [Review]

Quick Rating: Good
Story Title: Chapter 4: Depression

Spider-Man mourns the loss of Cap, but still has to deal with stuff that life throws at him…

fallensonthedeathofcaptainamerica004 Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
From an Idea by: J. Michael Straczynski
Assistant Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Bill Rosemann
Cover Art: David Finch | Variant by: Michael Turner
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This story has certainly lost much of its impact–on me–by being stretched out so much. That’s not to say it’s entirely devoid of impact…but going through these "stages of grief" or "loss" or whatever the official phrasing is would work much better had this series been more immediate and timely. After all, I have had what? A quarter year (or more) now to get used to the idea of Captain America being "dead," and to partake in the online culture of communication that has really lessened the character’s death–as I have come to really agree that within a couple years or so, we’ll have Steve Rogers alive and well, having "got better" after this ordeal…or worse, turn out that THIS Steve Rogers was a certain alien poser.

That meta-textual stuff aside…this was a good issue. This issue’s focus is on a "depressed" Spider-Man as he deals with the loss of a man he’d looked up to as a hero–not just a "fellow" super-hero or colleague, but as an actual hero far above his own "level," by whom it was an honor to even be so much as acknowledged. And while spending time in a cemetary, Spidey/Peter realizes that he’s got an audience…and when his spider-sense goes off, he leaps into action, lashing out at the clear and present threat. The issue winds down with Spidey and Wolverine (which helps hold this series together, not merely "jumping" from one character to another, but maintaining some continuity as the characters interact).

There’s a lot that could be said and analyzed and "read into" the text, based on knowledge that’s been made public about events the writer has faced, and I’d like to acknowledge that fact without getting into it beyond this statement.

The story seems to fit Spidey…I haven’t followed the character all that much for a number of years, so I might be getting something that’s not there, depending on the nuances one pulls out. For me, though, this seemed to be a solid reflection of Spidey acting in context of having just lost a mentor/father-figure/inspiration…and that he’s in the black suit lends yet further loss based on what he’s apparently been dealing with in his own book(s). The threat faced in the cemetery elicits the expected reaction from the character, while simultaneously providing a nice twist, breaking just a bit from a clichéd sort of formula.

I liked the art here. Finch isn’t an artist I’m terribly familiar with of late, only dipping into Marvel here and there the last several years…but the art is definitely recognizable, and carries a certain realism to it that (while allowing one to still subconsciously recognize it as "just" 2-d comic book art) adds a lot to the visual enjoyment of the story. And I think that is the best-looking version of the "villain" I can ever remember seeing.

As a whole, this issue (to me) is an example of how enjoyable story arcs can be as a series of stories that CAN be taken alone, but are also part of a larger arc, rather than a series of chapters that FEEL like they are 1/6th segments of a single story…and that makes it certainly worth its cover price.

If you’re following the series already, this isn’t an issue to skip on; and if you’re just interested in Spidey…you’ve got a good dose of him dealing with another loss in his life, mixed with some action here, and I think it’s fair to say you probably don’t NEED to have read the earlier issues to get/follow/enjoy this issue. I do think these may read better in a collected volume in one sitting, though. Of course, you can do much worse by way of single issues.

Ratings:

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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