Don’t have time for full reviews of comics? Then check out Graphic Bits: bite sized chunks of comic book goodness designed to get behind the panels and into your hearts.
This week (8 August 2012), Valiant Comics favourites return in Archer and Armstrong #1, Scott Snyder follows up the Court of Owls in Batman #12, somebody else has a go at the character in Daredevil Annual #1 and Marvel continues to relaunch characters with Gambit #1. It’s also pop-at a-go-go in It-Girl and the Atomics #1, we see if Punk Rock Jesus #2 is as good as the debut issue and Thun’da #1 gives us a blast from the past. Plus our regular grab-bag of other stuff we’ve been reading.
Don’t forget to listen to Behind the Panels, our weekly comic book podcast, as well.
Archer and Armstrong #1 [Valiant Comics, Fred Van Lente (writer), Clayton Henry (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★]: Valiant Comics reboots these classic characters with a whole new take on the saga, and boy is it an epic. Opening in ancient Mesopotamia (on a Tuesday), the first few pages show us the destruction of the Earth. Flash forward to many centuries later, and a young Archer is released from a sect that secretly dwells within a Christian amusement park, where dinosaurs and cavemen exist together in a fun-filled educational wonderland. Going out into the “festering isle of corruption and criminality” (New York), he eventually encounters the ancient Armstrong in a bar fight, before the unlikely duo are whisked off to a secret dwelling of an all-powerful sect. So begins anew the adventures of these favourite characters. If, like us, this is your first journey with the dynamic duo, then it appears to be a terrific place to start. What is immediately disarming is just how funny this book is, filled with terrific dialogue, visual gags and spins on the comic format itself. The artwork is gorgeous to look at as well, perhaps making this Valiant’s must-read debut of the year.
Batman #12 [Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV (writers), Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke (artists), Bits Rating: ★★★★½ - PICK OF THE WEEK]: So how do you follow-up one of the biggest events of the year in the book that formed its backbone? You don’t, if you’re Scott Snyder. Helped out for half-a-dozen pages by James Tynion IV, who co-wrote the Batman Annual #1 and the backup stories of the last few months, we get a old-school character piece that reminds us why we love the goddamn Batman. The focus of the story is new character Harper Row, one of the best new additions to the book in years. Living below the poverty line, she and her brother are dealing with regular trouble from local toughs. While Harper attends a gala party she ‘won’ a place to in honour of Bruce Wayne’s redevelopment of her neighbourhood, the Batman also helps her with her problems. From Harper’s point of view, we get a sense of how deep Wayne’s love is for the city, and how the smallest of his actions can change the lives of everyday citizens of Gotham. This is more than just a palette cleaner, prior to next month’s #0 origin story and the return of the Joker in #13, but is rather an essential tale of the city which Wayne has fought to protect all of these years. We hope to see more of Harper Row in the future.
Daredevil Annual #1 [Marvel, Alan Davis (writer/artist), Bits Rating: ★★★½]: Mark Waid, and Matt Murdoch, is given a break from Daredevil with a plus-sized issue that takes us back to a simpler, happier Manhattan, “some time ago”. Alan Davis writes and draws a beautifully illustrated book that is a throwback to the one-shot DD stories of a bygone era. There is certainly noting essential about this particular book, but it is a fun story nonetheless. Involving the sexy seductress ClanDestine, it’s a game of cat and mouse across the city as Daredevil and another figure chase Plastoid. We told you it was a blast from the past! With an appearance by none other than Dr. Strange, the oversized special may be something of a cash-grab from the cats at Marvel, but fans of the character are unlikely to be disappointed with this lovingly compiled story. Special mention needs to be made of Javier Rodriguez’s colouring, as it makes Davis’s artwork pop all the more. Regular readers can rest assured that Mark Waid will be back on board for the exciting but far less upbeat story in the pages of the regular book.
Gambit #1 [Marvel, James Asmus (writer), Clay Mann (artist), Bits Rating: ★★]: In March’s Astonishing X-Men #48, Gambit returned to the X-Men fold, and with the first issue in this new ongoing series, we see the return of another one of his roles: Gambit the thief. A fan favourite throughout much of the 1990s, and still a figure with a great cult following. Here, Rémy LeBeau is bored with his life, so he decides to go and star ripping off some socialites, but is soon drawn into a bigger adventures with mobsters. And there’s a girl. From the opening slash fic shots of Remy in the shower, this is merely pandering to the masses. The story is the kind of barrel-scraping monotony we came to expect from a simpler time, with Gambit being “bored” not really enough of a motivation to keep this book sustained over one issue, let alone a whole story arc. Mann’s art is serviceable, and at times quite handsome, but he doesn’t really have anything to work with in Asmus’s underwhelming story. For a better example of how to spin-off a purple-clad hero into his own ongoing series, see last week’s Hawkeye.
It Girl and The Atomics #1 [Image Comics, Jamie S. Rich (writer), Mike Norton (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★]: Originally created by Mike Allred, and spinning out of the pages of his seminal Madman, Jamie S. Rich (Spell Checkers) takes the groovy hipster chick and makes her his own. If any man can truly make that claim. With the Atomics boys off on a space adventure with Red Rocket 7, It Girl has been left to defend the city by herself. Getting back into the swing of things, she confronts The Skunk, who killed her sister. During this issue, we also see Dr. Flem’s new space-time experiment that he “volunteers” It Girl for in Madman’s absence. Rich manages to introduce the characters in the book as though they were brand new, quickly establishing the state of play for newcomers or those of us who have been away from the world for a while. The incredibly busy Norton, who is doing amazing things with Revival as well, uses cover artist Allred as a starting point, rather than trying to ape his style. An incredibly satisfying start to what we hope is a long series full of cheeky humour, retro fun and groovy wibbly-wobbly timey wimey bits.
Punk Rock Jesus #2 [DC/Vertigo, Sean Murphy (writer/artist), ★★★★½]: When we looked at the first issue last month, we commented that Punk Rock Jesus was ”might become a must read for the year”. There isn’t a single thing in this second issue that has dissuaded us from that notion. Six months on from the birth of Chris, the genetically engineered clone of Jesus Christ, we learn more about the hysteria the various religious groups have whipped up outside the secluded island, and just how far the J2 Project has gone in ensuring the public buys into the ratings of their TV series, and their perfect version of events. This is taking its toll on Gwen, the mother of the child, although all of this seems to be a part of their plan as well. Toughman Thomas now becomes our eyes and ears in this world, his natural investigative instincts and desire to protect overriding any loyalty he has to the company, leading up to a spectacular conclusion to this issue. It’s also great to see Vertigo putting faith in the black and white art of Murphy, which sells this world. We are now only a third of the way into this tale, and we literally have no idea where it is going.
Thun’da #1 [Dynamite, Robert Place Napton (writer), Cliff Richards (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★]: Now this is a retro revival. Thun’da: King of the Congo was originally created Frank Frazetta back in 1952, and here writer Napton follows the same basic story in this opening issue. Restoring the prehistoric elements that original editor Ray Krank once asked Frazetta to remove from the book, Dynamite drops the subtitle but keeps the jungle setting. In this version, a soldier crash-lands in a remote jungle, initially unaware of his surrounds or who he is. He is rapidly set upon by dinosaurs and other anachronistic critters, forced to rely on instinct to survive. It is an intriguing set-up, and may lead into a high-concept adventure series, but we question whether this has more than a few issues in it before it starts getting repetitive. That said, Napton’s internal monologue in the first few pages is somewhat original, displacing the reader as much as he displaces his protagonist. Artist Cliff Richards (no, not that one) is capable, but like the story itself, it is hardly something you will pondering after you turn the final page.
Fairest #6 [DC/Vertigo, Bill Willingham (writer), Phil Jiminez (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★½]: This issue brings the first arc of this newish series, and the tale of Ali Baba, Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose) and Lumi the Snow Queen, to a close. It’s all a bit of fun because none of it has to end in any consequence, being distinct from the large and complicated Fables stories. The Phil Jiminez artwork may be reason enough to pick up this book, giving these familiar characters a sparkling new sheen.
Space Punisher #2 [Marvel, Frank Tieri (writer), Mark Texeira (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★]: Having run out of things to do with the character, the turn to sci-fi has actually been partly successful for Frank Castle. In the second issue, they allow themselves to cut loose a little bit more, strapping a multi-legged Doc Ock to the front of a spaceship, and adding a surprising ending that may take this in directions we didn’t expect. Artwork is gorgeous, occasionally tipping their hat to Timothy Bradstreet but mostly retro 50s poster fantasy. Also: Space Hulk SMASH!
Spider-Men #4 [Marvel, Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Sarah Pichelli (artist), Bits Rating: ★★★★]: “Nice” is the most apt description for the fourth issue of this surprisingly good event. After the emotional punch at the end of the third issue, this fourth outing deals with the teary consequences of that meeting. However, while this issue takes the time for some nice character moments – some of the best in the series – the misstep in the timing of Issue #2 means that the final issue next month will have to cram a lot in.