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Ninjak (2015) #1 [Review]

ninjak(2015)001Book 1; The Lost Files

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice
Colors: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover Art: Lewis Larosa, Clay Mann, Brian Reber, Dave Johnson, Marguerite Sauvage, Trevor Hairsine, Tom Muller
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99
Cover Date: March 2015

I can honestly say that while looking forward to the debut of this series, I hadn’t really noticed its release was quite so imminent until the morning it was due out. Once I did, I found myself REALLY looking forward to getting it and sitting down to read the thing.

The cover is a bit of a mixed bag. The image is rather cool, showing off the title character and his toughness–both swords drawn, angry face, and arrows sticking out from all over…obviously he’s not some ordinary man that can be stopped with even a hail of arrows and shuriken. I dig the solid coloring to the cover text, company logo, and title…it looks good with the image, complementing it while standing out clearly and avoiding any trouble being made out against its background. However, outside of the UPC box it looks to me more like an ad than actual ads for the issue have! The advertised image that most stood out to me had the standard Valiant trade dress and the title logo at the top. At the size presented on this cover there’s no real reason I see to not have it at the top. If it were significantly larger it’d make sense to move it down to avoid covering most of Ninjak’s head/face. So while I applaud the image and the cover text coloring/use individually, it looks like a draft rather than a final piece.

For the $3.99 cover price we’re given a 22-page main story as well as an 8-page backup. This was a real treat to get the extra content withOUT losing pages from the main story…and certainly adds content value to the issue. There’s also a several-page “preview” of Bloodshot Reborn that–with the backup–makes this a fairly thick issue that physically feels a lot more worthwhile than most $3.99 comics.

The main story flips back and forth between Ninjak present-day and his past, allowing for some nice compare/contrast and insight into who he is now and where he comes from. It’s rather cinematic, which I both appreciate and enjoy here. I’m not particularly invested in the character as yet, only knowing him from a couple issues I’ve read of the ’90s incarnation and his appearances in other contemporary Valiant titles the last couple years. As such, I’m interested in learning more about Ninjak and the man behind the costume…which is something we get plenty of here. We see him on his own, in his element as he takes on a particular mission…and we see glimpses of his past which lets us see more depth of character than we could reasonably get seeing only the present. The split nature of showing present and past allows us this new story with the character, an “in” to his past, while avoiding our being forced as readers to endure simply a solo adventure or simply some prequel-esque/Year One type story.

Buried within the story itself is a little gem that made me grin and think to myself “of COURSE! That is GREAT!” In the back of my head, I’ve always wondered at the name Ninjak. Where’d it come from, why would this secret agent/spy/ninja call himself that? (Other than the fact that it’s definitely a product of the early 1990s). Being paid from a “black slush fund,” several previous ninjas were labeled A through J…Colin is the 11th: Ninja-K.

The backup IS fully set in the past, providing an uninterrupted narrative of one of Colin’s first missions. While I’d likely balk if the main story were shorter to allow for the backup, as (functionally) bonus content it’s a welcome addition, allowing even further insight into where Ninjak’s come from.

I definitely prefer Mann‘s art in the main story to Guice‘s art on the backup. Guice‘s art is gritty, moody, and works very well in what it does, and definitely fits its story. Mann‘s work is a bit cleaner and has the benefit of consistency with recent-past appearances of Ninjak. The coloring of both stories also has an impact with the main story being a lot brighter and thus fitting more into the superhero mold while the backup is darker and more fitting as a spy story.

Whether you’ve followed this incarnation of Ninjak from X-O Manowar #4 back in 2012 or simply remember the character from the ’90s (or just want a ninja-“superhero” adventure) this is a great first issue. You’re introduced to the character–where he is now as well as where he’s come from.  We see some extension to the cast around him with hints on where this’ll go. We’re set up for the story that’s unfolding while getting a decent chunk of it here…by no means a full story, but enough to work with and get a feel for things. If you’re starting here, it works as-is…and if you’re familiar with the current Valiant universe and continuity there’s added depth to be found..

Valiant takes a character that’s been around most of its history and for the past several years in its current run, and truly rewards us with an excellent first issue…from Kindt‘s writing, Mann and Guice‘s art, and the entire creative team. It’s just that cover that bugs me, from the design standpoint. Highly recommended!



X-O Manowar (2012) #5 – the first appearance of Ninjak in contemporary Valiant comics.

Ninjak #1 cover ad and what I’d expected of the standard cover.


X-O Manowar #34 [Review]

xomanowar0034Dead Hand part 1: To the Last

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Lewis Larosa, Jorge Molina, Das Pastoras, Butch Guice
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: March 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

This issue is fairly distinct as the first “overlay” cover I’m aware of from this incarnation of Valiant. In addition to the “regular” cover, we have another piece covering half the front and all of the back of the issue, providing the same house-ad in color on the back (but nothing on the interior) and half the image of the front (in black-and-white with nothing on the interior side). The overlay includes the arc designation Dead Hand and story chapter (1), while the main/actual cover itself underneath is entirely in color with no arc designation or anything to indicate a new or specific arc.

Compared to prior issues where the “A” cover was outright MISSING half the image as a “variant”/”interlocking” sequence of covers for a single issues, I’ll gladly take this. I don’t really “get” the need for the overlay–the arc title doesn’t cover much and fits the title logo and simply looks like a comic cover. I’ll also accept this as an alternative to having a “black and white variant cover” and a “color variant cover” or some “virgin art” variant cover. Seeing this process done infuriates me all the more on the matter of variant covers.


That said, the cover isn’t bad but doesn’t really stand out to me other than the presence of the overlay.

I like the story quite well, and caught myself contemplating that I’m pretty sure Venditti has been on this book for 35-some issues now (including the #0 issue) which in this day and age is a significant run despite barely being 3 years. While I’ve had previous issues that I didn’t totally “follow” consciously, this one felt nicely rooted in a general continuity–I’ve read since #1; I read the Planet Death arc a couple years ago I read last year’s Armor Hunters stuff; and so this flows nicely out of everything that’s developed so far. I enjoyed seeing Aric return to Loam (and that I recognized the planet’s name) and felt like the Vine (aka “spider aliens”) could be sympathetic characters if only generically. I also quite liked Aric’s sense of responsibility toward ’em.

The art for the issue is solid, and while nothing stood out to me as singularly spectacular or such, it’s really good and fits the story quite well. The design of this issue’s Armor Hunters (with their armors) have a cool look to them and made me think of an “X-O Manowar Corps” in a sense.

This is clearly the opening chapter of an arc, as it basically “just” introduces stuff for the main part of the whole: we see Aric with his people as he prepares to leave; we’re introduced to what I believe are previously-unknown Armor Hunters; we’re introduced to Dead Hand; we see Loam and its reception for Aric; and we’re left on the cusp of a significant event for Loam and Aric as the issue ends. Though a reader would certainly enjoy this most as an in-context story, there’s just enough introductory stuff that I’d say this would be a good jumping-in point for someone to give the book a shot. Unfortunately, this IS “just” an opening chapter of a larger arc so that lends its own aspect to the book in general: there’s NOT a “full story” just in this single issue, which does promote the advantage of waiting for a collected volume to get an entire story in one book.

Whatever complaints I’ve had on variant covers, or my general complaint toward the $3.99 price point, this is a solid issue, and fresh off from reading it, it’s a nice validation of my enjoyment of the series as a whole. As the premiere and presently longest-running Valiant title, if you aren’t checking it out issue by issue, it’s at least well worth checking out in collected edition format. Significant as the Armor Hunters saga was, Dead Hand looks to be extremely significant for Aric and his supporting cast of characters minus additional issues outside of X-O Manowar itself to follow. Very much recommended!

Ruse #1 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com

Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Captain America: Reborn #6 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Leters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Designer: Rian Hughes
Covers: Hitch and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin; Joe Quesada, Danny Miki and Richard Isanove
Assoc. Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort

Before I read a single page of this issue, I was impressed by a stark difference I’m entirely unused to. This issue–at least, for the version of the cover that I bought, keeping with the visual style of the covers I’ve chosen since issue #1–sports not only a wrap-around cover, but a gatefold as well. That is, we have a 3-“panel” cover that folds out to the width of 3 comic covers, as a single, large image. Meanwhile, the latest Justice League of America issue from DC features HALF of a two-panel image as each of two different editions of the same exact issue. I dislike variants, but have a much easier time tolerating them when each is at least its own complete image. And the “build-an-image” motif where covers connect to form a larger image is cool, so long as it is multiple different issues–whether consecutive issues of a series/mini-series, or of a crossover/story arc.

Picking up where the previous issue left off, this issue finds Steve Rogers in his Captain America uniform, his body in control of the Red Skull’s consciousness, ready to murder his old partner Bucky, now the current Captain America. Meanwhile, a number of friends/allies fight for not only the rescue of Steve but also of those who have become entwined with the Red Skull and his machinations. Steve battles for control of his body, and unsurprisingly (especially given the title of this series) Steve wins out, the Skull is dispatched, and Steve is left–stable and no longer being bounced throughout his own history–in the present, to deal with a world in which he’s been absent and missed the Secret Invasion and most of Osborne’s Dark Reign.

The art on this book is high quality stuff. While it’s not perfect or anything, It really brings a lot to the story, enhancing the story and never particularly distracting from the reading experience. There are a couple of “iconic” full-page shots that were a little distracting as a result (in a good way, though). Despite the distraction–of noting the enormity of the moments depicted–they were a couple of my favorite moments of the entire issue. One shows Steve and Bucky rushing into battle side-by-side…two Captain Americas existing side-by-side. The other is Steve leaping into the fray, shield raised, the sunlight glinting off it, as many of the characters realize that THEIR Captain America is back.

While I tend to enjoy Brubaker‘s writing, this issue seemed so anticlimactic as to lack any real enjoyment for me. The enjoyment I found was in the art, in those images mentioned above. It doesn’t help that there wasn’t much to “wonder” about in this series. The title itself gave away the ending: Captain America would be reborn…and as we’d pretty much JUST wrapped up an 18-month mega-arc introducing a NEW Captain America into things (Bucky’s transformation from enemy agent to Shield-bearer)…it was pretty darned obvious. This issue in particular was spoiled by the fact that its first “epilogue” shipped some 4-5 weeks ago. Why that couldn’t have simply been held is beyond me–but it gave us an issue of Steve obviously back, obviously no longer bouncing through time, obviously alive, and Bucky alive as well. All that was left was the exact, specific details as to how things would wrap up.

If you’ve been following the series so far, it’s worthwhile to snag this issue to wrap up and such. Otherwise, wait for the collected edition–which will HOPEFULLY contain not only this 6-issue mini, but BOTH epilogues: Who Will Wield the Shield? and Who Will Not Wield the Shield?

Story: 5/10
Art: 8/10
Overall: 6.5/10

Captain America: Reborn #4 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Covers: Hitch, Guice and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin, Joe Kubert and Laura Martin
Assoc. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer and Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I’m not 100% certain I bought/read issue 3 of this, offhand. Even if I not only read issue 3 but also reviewed it, I don’t at present recall issue 3. Despite that, it’s almost an irrelevant point as this issue finds Cap still bouncing through time, the Skull and crew still getting things assembled, and Cap’s allies still playing catch-up.

Skull and crew arrive in Latveria at invitation of Doctor Doom. Doom fixes their time device, while Cap’s allies are finding out what happened with Sharon and how she–and her blod–hold the key to what’s going on with Cap.

As Doom’s device is activated, things come to a bit of a head as a body is present, though all may not be quite as promising as it appears.

The art’s easily the best part of this story. Hitch draws a great Doctor Doom, and I found myself enjoying the visuals even as the story sped through its own pages. Brubaker’s done a great job overall with the Captain America saga. This series seems just a bit much, though, and something feels a bit “off” from what I enjoyed in reading the first omnibus and the 1.5-year saga following up on Steve’s death and Bucky’s installation as the new Cap.

If you’re specifically a fan of Brubaker’s work you’ll probably enjoy this; ditto if you’re a fan of Hitch’s art. If you’ve been following this mini thus far, probably worth finishing out the story. Otherwise, you’re probably just as well holding off for a collected volume.

Plus, with a collected volume…you won’t have two different titles for the same story (three, if we count the fact that this essentially IS the Captain America title right now, outright replacing the main title for its duration).

Story: 5.5
Art: 9
Overall: 7

Captain America: Reborn #2 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Covers: Hitch, Guice and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin, Tim Sale and Dave Stewart
Assoc. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer and Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Well, I’m glad I picked the cover I did for the first issue…it seems that that was indeed the “standard” cover, meaning if I follow through with this entire series, I won’t be left feeling like one of my covers is out-of-place with the others.

I continue to be baffled as to why this couldn’t just be issue #602 of Captain America (or better yet, #53 or whatever without the renumbering). After all, while we have a different artist in Hitch on the visuals, the story is still Brubaker’s, and honestly looks and feels like any other issue of Captain America. If it’s about the chance at a #1 in the face of combining all previous runs to make the fat ol’ #600…then surely part of the trade dress for this story could have displayed a “part #1” or “part #2” while having the actual issue number in small print.

As said…this story is very much a Brubaker issue of Captain America. Amidst some Lost-styled time-hop scenes of Stever Rogers reliving scenes of his earliest days as Captain America (and his transformation from scrawny kid TO Captain America) we learn a little bit about the time-flashing that likely foreshadows something significant for later in the story. We also see the present as the current Captain America–formerly Bucky–and the Black Widow face Norman Osborne’s “evil” (or is that “dark?”) Avengers and see that Norman’s now got a stake in things as he issues an ultimatum to act as the issue’s cliffhanger.

It seems almost a given to me that Brubaker’s writing is high quality and in top form here–whatever “event” this is billed as, and whatever elements may or may not have been “forced,” he makes the story work in and of itself in its own sandbox that we’ve seen since his run started…while incorporating obvious and relevant elements from the larger Marvel Universe as a whole.

Hitch and Guice provide excellent visuals that capture the tone of the story very well. Though the art may not match up 100% with what the bulk of the Cap series has had, it certainly fits very well with it…having its own style without being a departure from what longer-time readers are likely familiar with. In itself, no complaints from me on the art.

Taken as a whole, this issue was pretty good. I was actually intending NOT to buy this issue due to the price tag and figuring on waiting for the collected edition if anything–but with Marvel’s pricing of late, it’s probably cheaper this way, and I have the feeling this pulled-out-into-itself mini-series will greatly inform whether or not I return to the monthly Cap book this fall.

If Cap’s your thing, this is well recommended. Otherwise…you would probably be more satisfied waiting for a complete arc to read.

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

Captain America: Reborn #1 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Covers: Hitch, Guice and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin, Alex Ross, Joe Quesada, Danny Miki and Richard Isanove
Assoc. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

After the reveal in Cap #600 that the gun we thought had killed Steve was something other than a simple gun, this issue picks the story up and moves forward. We see what appears to be a flashback to Steve’s time in World War II, though we quickly discover there’s a bit more to the scenes than just flashbacks. In the present, we see the other players of the story gather, and discover the nature of Steve’s flashbacks–which also seems to set up what is to come later in the story. We also discover through terminology and visuals that it would be really quite simple to set “Lost” square into the Marvel Universe.

As returns go, the story seems to be plausible enough in terms of comic book returns. I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from Brubaker the last couple years, be it Captain America, Criminal, Incognito, and what-have-you. I recently read through the Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus, which gave me a great appreciation for the story he’s told the last few years in the main Cap book (it’s that reading that also convinced me that I think it far, far too soon be seeing Steve brought back). However, as stories go, this seems upper-middle-of-the-road to me, mainly because my first thought at a couple of scenes was of Lost (and reinforced when I saw comments pop up on Twitter on that subject).

The art is good stuff, and seems to fit the tone established across Brubaker’s tenure on the main Cap book–high quality, and nothing jarring me out of the story for any particular visual issue. It’s not spectacular, but it is good–and I really have zero complaint on the art…at least on the interior. I do have a bit of an issue with the variants, but that’s a usual complaint from me–I don’t like ’em.

On the whole, this is not a bad start to this mini–but the cover price combined with its place (presumably) within the ongoing Captain America story…I don’t plan to pick up later issues, and will await the collected volume(s). If out-of-title event minis–or Brubaker–or just Cap–are your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this. I do expect this is going to read a LOT better as a collected single story, though.

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

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