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Imperium #4 [Review]

imperium004Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Doug Braithwaite
Colorist: Brian Reber with Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover: Rafael Albuquerque, Kano, Rafa Sandoval, Cary Nord, Doug Braithwaite
Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor in Chief: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: May 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

This series is an interesting exercise for me so far. It feels like a definite “evolution” of sorts–having begun with Harbinger as an ongoing, bridged with Harbinger: Omegas and then functionally replacing Harbinger entirely. Its story began with what was laid out by the Harbinger run, but as those characters were scattered and moved about we still have Harada actively doing his thing…which presently is more important to the Valiant Universe than the Renegades’ story.

We find some of Harada’s people visiting another dimension, where one of them–Angela–is possessed by something. On their return, they find her eyes and entire visual system no longer exists and there is a self-aware intelligence inhabiting her body, but is not her. She offers knowledge in exchange for continued freedom/access to do her thing (the intelligence claims to be a scientist itself). She builds a machine, shows off her detachment, and by the end of the issue Harada declares a new war has begun.

If that seems a bit disjointed, it’s what I felt, reading this. I enjoyed the reading overall as a “latest segment of story,” but very much feel like it’s “just” part of a bigger story and not so much a cohesive whole by itself.

The art is definitely pretty to look at overall, if a bit disturbing at points…but that does mean it’s doing its job. For the stuff going on in the “other dimension” I didn’t find myself entirely following along, which I definitely do NOT care for…but if it was supposed to be surreal, I managed to pick up on that much.

We “feel” Harada in this issue more than we actually see him, which I definitely do not mind…the series is Imperium, not Harada. I do like the cover–or at least, the one I got–the “main” “A” cover. It’s got the stylized look of the series so far, and thus fits in visually as well as in simply BEING the newest issue. However, this seems to be the arbitrary conclusion to a short 4-issue arc (presumably for a $9.99 vol. 1 paperback) but does not really feel to me like it resolves anything…it simply continues stuff and kicks the door open on a new matter (presumably to be the focus of the next “arc”).

If you’re already following the title, this is worth getting for the continuation of the story. In and of itself as a single issue it’s nothing to jump over or seek out, though if you like Dysart and/or Braithwaite, and can find the first three issues it’d be worth getting those and this for a larger/longer reading experience (or just wait for the paperback). I do look forward to the next issue…not as some second arc, but just as the next chapter of an ongoing series.

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X-O Manowar #35 [Review]

xomanowar035Dead Hand Part 2: Extinction Event

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inkers: Ryan Winn w/Faucher & Pennington
Colorists: Brian Reber w/Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Lewis Larosa, Jorge Molina, Rafa Sandoval, Juan Jose Ryp
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant
Cover Date: April 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

Including the #0 issue a few months back, this marks 36 issues of this title so far. Three years that Valiant’s been "back" in the monthly comics game. 36 monthly issues of a single ongoing title, period. 36 monthly issues with a single writer. And I’ve been reading since the beginning; and even looking back to the 1990s, the original X-O Manowar title was in its early to mid #20s when I became aware of it, and probably wasn’t much past its own 3-year mark when it dipped back off my radar for the most part. Which is all to say: this has to be one of the best "runs" I’ve experienced in a long time.

That said…this is the second issue of presumably a 4-part story. Unlike last year’s Armor Hunters crossover event, this story seems contained to this title. That it continues to draw from that event organically, furthering and developing stuff introduced is a great reward as a longtime reader. While this is not a multi title crossover event…the fact that it deals with stuff FROM one (for me) gives an interesting suggestion: if the initial introduction of the Armor Hunters warranted a huge event, and this Dead Hand thing is those guys’ failsafe and possibly a WORSE threat…SCALE has already been established such that stuff is still quite epic, even contained within this one title.

We open the issue on Earth, several years from now as a couple scientists contemplate an apparent supernova and decide they’d be toast by now if it was actually Alpha Centauri. We then shift TO the Alpha Centauri system where Aric races to contact the high priest on Loam, to get as many Vine evacuated as possible before their planet is destroyed. The Dead Hand protocol has triggered an extinction-level event to wipe out all life on the planet. Though Aric gets through and a handful of Vine escape…the planetary loss is horrific and leaves Aric angry as can be, even as we see how he HAS changed in his ways and dealings with others.

Story-wise, I found myself slightly distracted reading this as I marveled at the fact that I felt bad for the Vine people as well as contemplating Aric’s compassion for them…that they’re not merely some generic race of "spider-aliens" to be loathed AS a race.

The story itself is engaging and–other than the above thoughts–kept me racing through, wondering what would happen, how many would be saved, and seeing a lot of potential for "follow-up" to this issue’s events…particularly if this series lasts a lot longer yet.

The art did what I often prefer: looked good and did not distract. I liked it–I had a good sense of what was going on, and where my mind skipped ahead, forging a very clear expectation, the art quite lived up to it where it could have just as easy been a huge letdown.

"Obviously," as part 2 of a multi-part arc, and in this day ‘n age of comics not being the readiest-available form of entertainment for the casual reader…this won’t be an ideal jumping-on point. But if you’re already following the title, read the previous issue, and whatnot…this is well worth getting. Alternatively, if you’ve read Armor Hunters (the core mini and/or tie-ins and/or the full-event deluxe hardcover due out in a few weeks [as of this writing]…this arc is certainly a worthwhile follow-up to that event. And if you like "cosmic," this arc certainly fits that, and is certainly on-par with anything I know of recent Marvel cosmic stuff…but far more self-contained so far.

Matching to the previous issue (#34), and the above qualifiers…highly recommended!

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!


xomanowar005

  ninjak001advertisedcover

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.

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing [Review]

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing

Writer: Jonathan Vankin
Pencils: Marco Castiello
Inks: Vincenzo Acunzo
Art (Issue #2): Renato Arlem
Colors: Barb Ciardo
Letters: Sal Cipriano, (Issue #3) Dave Sharpe
Cover: Ardian Syaf, Vicente Cifuentes, Ulises Arreola
Editors: Rex Ogle and Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics

I haven’t finished Brightest Day yet, but I know that the big hubbub over the final issue was the return of Swamp Thing and John Constantine–after a lengthy absence–to the mainstream DCU. And waiting for the collected volumes of Brightest Day, I opted to pass on this series. But this weekend, I found myself looking for something “extra” to pick up, and the comic shop I was at had all three issues, so I decided that rather than spend only $3.99 for a one-shot, at “only” $2.99/issue, I’d snag this entire 3-issue mini.

John Constantine finds himself the butt of his pal Chaz’s jokes for having bought a newspaper–though this particular newspaper had literally called out to him, the Swamp Thing’s attempt to make contact with him through the plant fibers in the paper. The trouble apparently caused by the Swamp Thing draws Constantine into a quest for his old acquaintance. After all, John saw the Swamp Thing through a couple other major events, so only fitting to be part of whatever this latest go-round is. Constantine makes contact with Batman to enlist the detective’s aid. When this doesn’t go as planned, he finds himself in Metropolis seeking the Man of Steel’s brand of assistance. Upon realizing what may actually be going on, John finds himself on a path that neither Superman nor Batman can condone as he seeks to set things right in a way that only he–John Constantine–can do.

It’s been ages since I’ve read any Hellblazer stuff–at least a year and a half, maybe 2+ years–so this was a welcome reading experience. Vankin has a good feel for the character, I felt like I was reading Hellblazer…except this is set within the DCU, with John interacting once more with a world that includes Superman, Batman, and other super-powered people, unlike the world the character’s Vertigo counterpart inhabits. This version of Constantine is younger, though still quite recognizeable as the character he is. There’s plenty of reference to the past to establish the character’s roots, to remind those familiar with the characters past of what they are. And if one is unfamiliar, it serves to establish that this character has a past in the DCU, though he’s not cropped up in a DCU book in quite a few years.

Though the series’ title emphasizes the Swamp Thing, this feels fully like a DCU-based John Constantine/Hellblazer story, and does so far more than I’d anticipated, expecting there to be a lot more focus on Swamp Thing (especially with Swamp Thing being one of the “New 52” in DC’s relaunch in September). Of course, I’ve long been more a fan of Constantine than Swamp Thing, so this focus didn’t bother me and I think my enjoyment of this series was higher than it would have been if it actually did focus more on Swamp Thing).

The story itself felt pretty basic, and even a bit choppy, almost as if it should have been stretched to at least another issue. Given its timing at the very end of this version of the DCU, though, there seems to have been a need to compress it into only three issues. The first two issues had a nice build, reintroducing us to Constantine, as well as putting him back on the map for Batman and Superman. The third issue held a good bit of promise to it, but after 2 1/2 issues’ build, the end seemed to be anticlimactic, almost negating the purpose of having this series to begin with. This could change depending on the status quo in the new Swamp Thing ongoing, but that would almost make this series seem a prologue and worthy of an altered title.

The art was a sort of mixed experience going through the three issues. Offhand, I’m not familiar with the art team(s) behind this series. The style was not unattractive, and seemed to fit the characters involved. Batman and Superman, if only for the amount of Vertigo Hellblazer that I’ve read seemed a bit out of place by existing, though the artists had a good blend that allowed them to visually work with Constantine and Swamp Thing (or vice-versa). Though the second issue had a different artist, the style’s similar enough to the first and third that I honestly didn’t even notice until pulling the credits to write this review.

As I have not yet finished reading Brightest Day, this doesn’t honestly seem or feel connected to that, except that it would sort of explain an apparent resurrection that lies at the core of this story (even as it reminds me a bit of The Spectre’s character shortly after Green Lantern: Rebirth). If this ties to the new Swamp Thing series as I think it might, I’d hope to see this collected either as a Swamp Thing vol. 1 or 0, or somehow simply not as just a Brightest Day companion volume. If you’re a fan of Hellblazer, this series presents a chance to see a younger Constantine interacting with the DC Universe he came from, and get away from the intricate mythology that’s built up over the last 200+ issues of Hellblazer. If you’re interested in Swamp Thing, this wouldn’t seem a horrible story, but Swamp Thing seems a bit player at best, though you’ll find plenty with Constantine, a character with some key ties to Swamp Thing’s past.

Recommended.

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

Green Arrow #1 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4.5/5
Overall: 4/5

Superman/Batman #68 [Review]

The Big Noise, part one: Rumble Face

Writer: Joe Casey
Pencils: Ardian Syaf
Inks: Vicente Cifuentes & David Enebral
Color: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Syaf, Cifuentes and Arreola
Assistant Editor: Rex Ogle
Editor: Eddie Berganza

I wanted to like this issue. I was even looking forward to it, on hearing the book would come back into continuity with stories revisiting previous events. In this case, Summer 2001’s “Our Worlds at War” crossover event. I couldn’t remember which issue would begin this new “format” or “focus” of the series, but when I saw the Our Worlds at War banner across the top, I was excited. A bit of nostalgia flooded in seeing the tag “Casualties of War!” included–several of those Casualties of War issues back in 2001 were among the most powerful comics I read that year. So to say that I had high hopes for this issue would probably be an understatement.

And as one might expect from my phrasing…this issue was extremely disappointing in its execution. Other than the time-frame it’s supposed to be set in, and references to the world having just been through a war, there’s not much that seems to solidly place this issue’s events as coming on the heels of Our Worlds at War itself.

I suspect this is another “standard” story arc…that is, six-issues and well-paced for the eventual “graphic novel,” which might even have some sales crossover with the 2-volume collected edition of the event, or the large “omnibus” TPB. As a single issue, though…this is entirely forgettable.

The story doesn’t even begin to hook me–the “hook” was the OWAW tie-in. The hope that I’d see something that would make this feel like a long-lost chapter of that story. That expectation never did deliver. I’m confident that once all 6 issues are assembled, and read in one-go, possibly following a re-reading of the original event…the OVERALL story is likely to come across much better.

The art is very solid throughout, and not at all a bad depiction of Superman nor Batman. I really have no complaint with the visuals…they’re actually quite good overall. Nothing memorable, exactly…just good, clean work.

Unless you don’t mind a slow build, and an issue that’s nothing more than introduction to a standardized-arc format, I’m highly disinclined to recommend this issue.

Story: 4/10
Art: 8/10
Overall: 5/10

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