April 30, 2014

Review -- HARBINGER #22

Harbinger #22

Colors by : Brian Reber

Letters by: Dave Sharpe
Publisher: Valiant Comics
Elkin:3 stars
Wunderlich:4.5 stars
Elkin: This is one talky book. Joshua Dysart is all about conversation in Harbinger #22. Everybody is yak-yak-yakking so much that by the end of it, I have this mental image of letterer Dave Sharpe putting his lettering hand in a bucket of ice water and there's that comical hiss as steam rises forth.
But that's okay, because Dysart is using all these words (well... most of them anyway) in order to push narrative, unfold character, and invest his audience in where he's taking them.
And where is he taking them? Well, here we go:
Peter Stanchek and his wayward team of teenage Renegades thought they had found freedom. They thought they could get their old lives back. They thought they could bring down Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation. They were wrong. And now one of them will die.
Oh yea. It's the start of a three part arc in which A HERO MUST DIE!
Valiant seems to be playing the “tried and true” comic book publisher game of event books and hero deaths. And hey, that's fine – so far Valiant has shown that they value story over event, character over trope, and creators over sales (for the most part). In Dysart's hands, this whole “death of a hero” gig may actually have a fresh face. There's two more issues left in the story – and even though I've already got my bets down as to “WHO DIES” – I'm trusting the creators to keep me invested.

April 29, 2014


Eternal Warrior #8 

  • Comic Writer Greg Pak
  • Penciller Robert Gill
  • Inker Mark Pennington
  • Colorist Guy Major, John Rauch
  • Letterer Dave Sharpe
  • Publisher Valiant
Elkin:5 stars
Wunderlich:4 stars
Elkin: Damn you, Greg Pak, you almost made me cry.
I like to think of myself as a relatively stoic sort, not prone to outbursts of emotion even on a subtle level, but Greg Pak'sEternal Warrior #8 has touched the blackened rubble that is my heart. This issue is the culmination of the Eternal Emperor arc that time jumped Gilad Anni-Padda into the year 4001 A.D. where he is the leader of a small, struggling village in the marshlands of Little Rock, and, more importantly, the protector of his granddaughter, Caroline.
This arc has all been pointing to its end, and the payoff in this issue is not where I thought it was going to go. Instead of a small tragedy, Pak turns this story into the human tragedy – that of the endless recurrence, mankind's fallibility. Pak is, in his way, telling us that the cycle of destruction is inevitable and, if you stick around long enough, you get to witness it happening again and again and again.
The first step in any act of human cruelty is when one group strips another group of their humanity. Early in this issue, Pak has the Eternal Warrior say, “I've seen people do the worst thing you could ever imagine, and then they go home, take a bath, and hug their babies. They're all people.” To which his granddaughter replies, “But … They're not US.” This is the moment in the story where it all turns, and artist Robert Gill steps up to the highest level, creating a quiet panel of Gilad touching his granddaughter's cheek. It is here the book starts to break me.

April 22, 2014

Review -- X-O MANOWAR #24

  • X-O MANOWAR #24

  • Comic Writer Robert Venditti
  • Penciller Diego Bernard
  • Inker Alison Rodriguez
  • Colorist Brian Reber
  • Letterer Dave Sharpe
  • Publisher Valiant
Elikn:4 stars
Wunderlich:2.5 stars
 ElkIn: Okay, so, I'll freely admit that I am one of those cynical bastards who was driven away from superhero comics because of the proliferation of “events” and “must-reads” and “new number ones”. That's right, I'm THAT GUY, smug in the face and proudly rubbing my belly while sonorously pontificating about the corporatization of comics. I'll swig from a glass and loudly rue the turn my favorite heroes made when they became IP's.
And I know I'm not alone here, I'm assured daily that there is a vast unwashed hoard of us intellectually pompous asses casting aside and eschewing left and right those stories which in our more innocent times held so much sweet laiche.
It just got too much, you know. For me, with all the events and tie-ins comics became this enormously expensive puzzle that never really fit together all that well, one which the process of putting together left my geek teats feeling overmilked. Comics had become a commodity, not entertainment, and my previous joy had curdled.
Then along came the Valiant relaunch, and here was a publisher putting out books that rose to the top like a sweet ambrosia cream. Superhero books became exciting again, and I couldn't drink enough to slake my thirst. Once again the clarion call of thick muscled heroes punching the shit out of evil dudes rang loudly in my ears.
Now, Valiant's going event.
And my hackles are up.
But if X-O Manowar #24, the “essential prelude to the Valiant Universe event of 2014”, is any indication of the direction this thing will be going, I may be heading out to the barn for the full run.
Wunderlich, god help me, I think I'm excited for Armor Hunters.
Robert Venditti has made Aric of Dacia – our X-O Manowar, the “fifth-century warrior bonded to alien armor and transplanted to the modern day”, a character I actually care about. He's written him sympathetic while enigmatic, powerful yet amiable, savvy yet innocent. Aric is more a complicated individual than dude in a suit who punches things, and I'm all in and I understand and I want more of what he's bringing. Now there's a big bad on the horizon, and Venditti is playing this thing for keeps. It's drama without being dramatic, the hook doesn't cut through my cheeks. Venditti is sculpting his hero not out of wood or stone, but out of our own aspirations.

April 21, 2014

Review -- Sam Alden's BACKYARD

  • Comic Writer Sam Alden
  • Penciller Sam Alden
  • Publisher Sonatina Comics
Silva:4.5 stars
Elkin:4.5 stars 
Keith Silva: Sam Alden makes me think comics.
In the last month I've spent the same amount of money on Sam Alden comics as it costs to buy a moderately priced bottle of Kentucky bourbon. I say this not as some 'hey-look-at-me-supporting-small-press-comics-instead-of-drinking-booze-come-to-Jesus' kind of moment, no. I'm talking economics here, comic economics. What is a comic worth and where is it best to invest one's time and money?
Alden's Backyard has become the next step in my evolution as a reader of comics and small-press promulgator, washed clean in rain and chicken blood. I cannot stop thinking about this book. There's more in these twenty-four pages, this 6 X 5 inch package than most of the weekly fix I receive from my LCS pusher. My gut says, 'why can't all comics be this deep, this good?' While my head says, 'I know Backyard is good, but is it that good?' It's probably me. I should shut the fuck up. The problem is; it is that kind of book, sticky and troubling.
Backyard is a deviously simple (read: deceptive) comic. It's like a good short story or, better, an actual 'shorter letter' for fans of the Pascal-by-Locke-by-Ben-Franklin chestnut: 'If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.' The final page (not counting an inside back cover coda) offers an ending, but not a resolution. Or is it the other way 'round? Either way, uneasiness runs rampant in Backyard; a squinchy and squirmy anxiety within and without the narrative.
The story takes place in a New Orleans commune. A community where phrases like: ''Okay, if we feel okay about the compost thing?'' and ''I was fired by a fucking unjust system'' are commonplace. What's a little outside the norm is Molly. See Molly ''stopped wearing shoes in June … and she stopped talking a little after that.'' Molly's gone to the … well, she's feral, more feral than most. There's more, of course, and all of it too wrong, too strange and too beautiful to ruin. Backyard lingers … like the smell of chicken shit in high summer.
After my first reading I thought I had Backyard sussed, judgments were made and rulings were delivered. Then I read it again and again and again. Each time I (re)read it I discover new information. My opinions mutate and everything turns from black and white to grey all except when it comes to Molly. For her, my sympathy only increases. What about Molly? What about Molly?

April 15, 2014

Review -- UNITY #6


Wunderlich:4 stars
Elkin:4.5 stars

Wunderlich: This is my first issue of Unity. I know all the characters involved, I love all the creators behind the book and I’ve even read most of Valiant’s original Unity title from 1992. What was stopping me from taking the plunge and finally diving into what should be Valiant’s dominating team book? I’ll be honest, it was Ninjak.
Ninjak is a British ninja. He’s got swords, fancy spy gear and a crummy name. I didn’t see the appeal of the original Ninjak in 1994, didn’t understand why he got a reboot in 1996 and can’t for the life of me figure out why he’s still a popular Valiant property. When I heard that they were bringing him back forUnity, I yawned.
Then again, I love Matt Kindt. Super Spy, Revolver, Mind MGMT—yeah, this guy can write. When he finally tackled mainstream superheroes with DC’s Frankenstein, I swooned. His art style is something to behold and his dialogue is never dull, but his plots always steal the show. In issue 6 of Unity he may be playing things a little loose, but he’s still a man with lots of ideas.
Ninjak, Eternal Warrior and X-O Manowar are out to rescue fellow teammate Livewire, who’s recently been captured by the diabolical Dr. Silk. We begin with our heroes trapped, wrestling with the physical cage they’re encased in as well as the moral dilemma that accompanies it. It’s a great scene to open with, showcasing each character’s personality and ethical compass. Unfortunately this trap also takes four pages to escape. This sort of pacing isn’t my cup of tea.

April 14, 2014

Review -- Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps #21


Wunderlich:3 stars
Elkin:3 stars

Wunderlich: Last week’s Archer and Armstrong failed to thrill me, but I still had high hopes for this final chapter of “Mission: Improbable”. Our muscular drunkard Armstrong was on the move to rescue his little (though incredibly talented and powerful) buddy Archer from the evil clutches of Project Rising Spirit. And the only thing that stood in his way? Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps! It’s got potential, no?
With reliable writers Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart on board, of course this story had potential! Unfortunately, I found myself underwhelmed at the climax of this arc, though it did provide a few interesting twists and turns.


April 10, 2014


  • Comic Writer: Liz Plourde
  • Penciller: Randy Michaels

Justin Giampaoli: 
Liz Plourde and Randy Michaels use their final-round Xeric Grant resources to create a story about a wannabe writer/artist who is initially introduced as a likable protagonist with a plucky carefree attitude. I was a little hesitant about dipping my toe back into the largely quotidian affairs of (mostly autobiographical) self-published comics after a five year stint and five-hundred-and-twenty-one reviews as a critic at Poopsheet Foundation, but a quick glance at this package and it looked as if the creators had more to do and more to say than mere navel-gazing. In short, I think they do have something valuable to say, but it's not relayed in the most effective ways possible.
I confess that I was ultimately left puzzled by some of the creative choices and troubling issues with this, err, issue, but I'll start with a few positives. The art is nice. To my eye, it felt like a blend of Terry Moore and Adrian Tomine, with a valiant stab at the emotive qualities of the former, and an inkier more variable line weight rendition of the latter. The figure work is very strong and the backgrounds are generous. I think Michaels does a good job capturing moments of humor or self-doubt, which can be difficult to pull off visually. As a fairly ravenous college dude, I appreciated Liz's near-obsession with food, it rings true from a character standpoint; in addition to being a means to an end, allowing the character to stumble onto the idea for her sculpture project.
How i Made the World

The book is titled How i Made The World; however, the title of the issue is prominently displayed as 'The Monster.' The advance PDF we received didn't come with a cover art, so to the untrained eye it'd be easy to mistake the title of the book as 'The Monster.' Perhaps this is the first issue of more planned issues (?) since the indicia says ''Vol. 1 No. 1,'' and 'The Monster' will then just be used functionally as a chapter heading (?). It was also never made clear to me why the letter 'i' is deliberately lower-case. I found Liz's advisor and some of the other school officials to be too catty and casual in the way they held what should have been professional conversations with Liz. I found some of the phrasing to be awkward, sentences that required reading an additional time or two to glean meaning, and sometimes they'd even shift tense mid-sentence. Liz's advisor says that the sculpture class has been full for three weeks, but suddenly ''BINGO!'' and she's in with no explanation. For me, this was emblematic of a recurring problem with the page-to-page transitions feeling jerky.
How i Made the World

April 9, 2014


Archer and Armstrong #19

Wunderlich: If Quantum and Woody is a pile of jokes with a story on top, Archer and Armstrong is the flipside. Fred Van Lente knows how to make us laugh but that isn’t his sole focus. A&A isn’t a sitcom, it’s action-adventure that just happens to be really, really funny when it wants to be. I love Armstrong with all his drunken, well-meaning wit. I love Archer and his constantly surprising action-hero moves. The problem with issue 19 is, I don’t love Bloodshot, I don’t care about H.A.R.D. Corps and the dynamic between A&A is entirely absent.

Starting in the middle of a cross-over is never a good idea. I haven’t read parts 1 or 2 of “Mission Improbable” (that’sA&A #18 and Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps #20) so I’m already at a disadvantage. As always, Valiant’s recap page does an adequate job preparing the uninformed reader, but much of this issue relies on your disposition towards the characters. Like I said, I love Archer and Armstrong but I could care less about the other players.
It’s a sad admission, but page 1 was the best part of the book. Van Lente’s best creations--the Sect’s bizarre cadre of weirdos, are on full display. The opening is hilarious and weird and fun, but it all changes from there. The rest of the book follows Archer as he battles H.A.R.D. Corps and I must say, the fight scenes didn’t do much for me. Though Archer kicks all kinds of butt and proves why he’s such an awesome character, the rest of the cast don’t elevate to the same level.
I think the biggest problem here is the dialogue. It’s natural and suitable but often feels pointless. I can’t stand it when characters have to shout out the names of their powers as they use them (even if that is a necessary part of the story). When Archer and Armstrong are together, their dynamic alone can sell this book. The H.A.R.D. Corps have no such dynamic on display in these pages--their bickering seems forced. If you’re a fan of their book you may find much to enjoy here, but I was invested solely in the A&A team.