New Books (July-August)

NewBooks-20220903

Featuring: Julia Bartz, Christopher Bollen, Ness Brown, John Brownlow, Ed Brubaker, Wesley Chu, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Frank Dikötter, Sean Doolittle, Erin M. Evans, Isaac Fellman, Denny Flowers, John French, Andrea Hairston, Thilde Kold Holdt, Jacqueline Holland, Vaseem Khan, Taylor Koekkoek, Fonda Lee, Scotto Moore, Annalee Newitz, Malka Older, K.J. Parker, Sean Phillips, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Richard Norton Smith, A. J. Tata, P. J. Tracy, Nghi Vo

Continue reading

Graphic Novels Catch-Up: Hulk, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Superman

GraphicNovelsRead-201310-1

Four mini-reviews of graphic novels I have read over the last couple of weeks: Captain America: Road to Reborn and Reborn, Indestructible Hulk, Superman: Secret Identity, Wonder Woman (New 52).

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK, Vol.1 – “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Marvel NOW)

IndestructibleHulk-Vol.01Writer: Mark Waid | Artist: Leinel Yu

Hulk: Indestructible force more weapon than man. Banner: Smartest man alive. Combined, they are the strongest, smartest weapon on the planet! And NOW!, the Indestructible Hulk is an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Hulk’s first official missions include taking down the all-new Quintronic Man and battling Attuma on the ocean floor! But not everything is as it seems: What is Banner’s secret hold over S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill? What and where is Bannertown, USA? And which one of Banner’s lab assistants holds a deadly secret? Plus: Bruce Banner and Tony Stark are friends but Hulk and Iron Man are anything but!

Collects: Indestructible Hulk #1-5

I read the first issue of this collection when it was first released, and rather liked the approach Waid took to the character. Bruce Banner is hired on by S.H.I.E.L.D., who continue to be wary of… the Other Guy. He’s given his own research team and lab – located at “Bannertown”. The story is pretty good, to start with, as we get reacquainted with Banner and his constant struggle with the Hulk inside him. He goes on a mission with Tony Stark (Hulk doesn’t like Iron Man very much). Then things get rather weird… The story moves into Exaggerated Comic Story, which was a little annoying, after the rather good, nuanced beginning. I would have preferred a little more investigation of Banner’s state of mind, etc. It’s strange that Waid didn’t offer this, actually, given his stellar work on series such as Irredeemable (still one of my favourite stories of all time – comic or otherwise).

There’s an underwater adventure that seemed to come out of nowhere, a big battle, and then we get sent back to Bannertown, where S.H.I.E.L.D. have hired a young, varied and eccentric staff to help Bruce with his research.

Yu’s artwork is, of course, as excellent and distinctive as always. I love his style, and have done ever since I read Superman: Birthright (which was also written by Waid).

It’ll be interesting to see how this series develops. I’ll be back for at least volume 2.

*

WONDER WOMAN, Vol.4 – “War” (DC New 52)

WonderWoman-Vol.4Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman’s world is shocked to its core when her eldest brother, the First Born, is freed from his slumber. Now, with her family in ruins and her friends scattered, she must turn to Orion and the New Gods of New Genesis to save herself and Zola’s newborn from the First Born’s wrath!

Collects: Wonder Woman #19-23

I think I may be losing interest in this series. It seems to be spinning its wheels, while also occasionally veering into excessive (but abrupt) action. I still think Brubaker and Chiang have developed a fascinating and unique take on Greek Mythology and its leading deities, creatures, and so forth. There are moments of sheer brilliance, but then also moments that just didn’t appeal. Orion, for example. What a pointless addition to the series. (Although, his presence did give rise to one of the best couple of pages, when Diana puts him in his place, tired of his provocative lechery and chauvinism – below.)

WonderWoman-19-Interior6

Chiang’s artwork is great, as I’ve mentioned in reviews of previous volumes – there’s actually nothing I would fault on the visual side of things. I just didn’t love the story as much as I have in the past. Going forward, I may not follow this series as closely or quickly as I have been up to this point.

*

CAPTAIN AMERICA: ROAD TO REBORN and REBORN (Marvel)

CaptainAmerica-RoadToRebornWriter: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Dale Eaglesham, Jackson Guice, Luke Ross, Gene Colan, Dave Gutierrez, Rick Magyar, Bryan Hitch

Road to Reborn: Sharon Carter’s dreams are forcing her to relive the death of Steve Rogers – and her time under the control of Dr. Faustus. But will these dreams also reveal hidden secrets about what she saw and did on the day Steve died.

Reborn: Captain America – Steve Rogers – is reborn, but is he the hero we know and love? Or is the new Captain merely a pawn of the Red Skull, or perhaps something worse? And what is Norman Osborn doing lurking on the fringes?

Collects: Captain America #49-50; #600-601
Captain America: Reborn #1-6

Yup, I’m still working my way through the fifth series of Captain America (Marvel refers to it as “Vol.5”, but given that each collection is a “Volume” as well, it gets confusing – hence the use of “series”). I’m still really enjoying it, and I think Brubaker’s characterisation of Steve Rogers, Bucky, and their myriad companions is brilliant. The antagonists remain delightfully cartoon-y – perhaps the only thing that hasn’t aged quite as well as the concept as a whole. Both of these books were very heavy on the nostalgia – even featuring a story about Captain America memorabilia collectors.

CaptainAmerica-RebornReborn ends with a massive battle on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, as Steve Rogers must wrest control of his body from the Red Skull, whose consciousness has been implanted into the original Captain America’s body. Confused? Yeah, well, it turns out that the “assassination” was not, in fact, an assassination. Apparently, the Red Skull and Arnim Zola had planned to take Cap out of time (or something)… Why? Why didn’t the decades-old nemeses want to actually kill their enemy? Because the Red Skull apparently wanted to become him. Paging Doktor Freud…

Overall, though, not bad. Not the best in the series, but still enjoyable. It’ll be nice to see how the story goes forward, with Bucky still operating as Captain America. I actually rather like Bucky in the role, too – he adds some extra dimensions and insecurities, not to mention methodology. Next in the series is Captain America: Two Americas, which I’ll be reading pretty soon. [I will catch up!]

*

SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY (DC)

Superman-SecretIdentityWriter: Kurt Busiek | Artist: Stuart Immonen

What’s in a name? Everything, if you share it with the Man of Steel!

Set in the real world, SECRET IDENTITY examines the life of a young Kansas man with the unfortunate name of Clark Kent. All Clark wants is to be a writer, but his daily life is filled with the taunts and jibes of his peers, comparing him to that other Clark Kent — the one with super-powers. Until one day when Clark awakens to discover that he can fly… that he does in fact have super-strength! But where did these powers come from? And what’s he going to do about it?

This was a wonderful surprise. Also, a bargain at only $4 (during one of ComiXology’s Superman-related sales, each of the four extra-length issues was only $1). It’s a wonderfully-told story, too. It’s picaresque, following a “real-life” Clark Kent without powers, who has long been plagued by amused relatives and friends gifting him any number of Superman-related memorabilia, toys, and so forth. Then, one day during his teens, he actually develops Superman’s powers. What happens next? Well, that’s the story of this collection, which takes us from Clark’s youth through to old age. We see his life unfold, as he takes a job at a New York journal, gets a book deal, marries someone called Lois (though not “- Lane”, and of Indian descent), and has two daughters. Along the way, he must constantly protect his family and himself from the attentions of the government. He forms a working-relationship with one agent, though, and they strike a deal for moving forward and not getting in each other’s way or on each other’s nerves.

The artwork is pretty good. It’s slightly different from what I’ve seen of Immonen’s other artwork (if I recall correctly), but it does suit the nostalgic and emotional nuance of the story. It’s brilliant, really. Very highly recommended for any lover of Superman stories, looking for something a little different.

*

Some upcoming comic reviews: Sixth Gun, Vol.5; Avengers, Vol.1 (Marvel NOW), American Vampire, Vol.2; Walking Dead, Vol.1 (just in time for Halloween, hopefully); Locke & Key, Vol.2; Atomic Robo, Vol.1; Saga, Vol.2; Thief of Thieves, Vol.1… And no doubt a few others, as I’ve been reading a fair few.

Comics Round-Up: CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.5) Collections (Marvel)

CaptainAmerica-Header

With my new job, I haven’t been spending as much time at my home computer in the past few months. I have not, however, stopped reading. Not by any stretch of the imagination. As a result, though, I have been racking up a lot of sets of notes for books (fiction, non-fiction, and particularly graphic novels) that I haven’t had a chance to feature on the blog, yet. So, over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try (famous last words) to get a whole bunch mini-reviewed.

Part of the attraction of shorter reviews for many of these graphic novels, along with the lower time commitment, comes from a desire to avoid spoilers. Some of these – as in this review – are volumes that come pretty late in established (or slowly-becoming-established) series. Anyway, let us get on with it. Here are some thoughts on the following Captain America books: The Death of Captain America, Vols.1-3, Man With No Face, and also Man Out Of Time.

*

ComicsRoundUp-CaptainAmerica(Brubaker)

DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA Vols.1-3 & MAN WITH NO FACE

Writer: Ed Brubaker | Artists: Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Butch Guice (Vol.2), Rob De La Torre (Vol.3), Luke Ross (Vol.3) | Inks: Butch Guice (Vol.2), Mike Perkins (Vols.2,3), Steve Epting (Vol.3), Rick Magyar (Vol.3), Fabio Laguna (Vol.3) | Colours: Frank D’Armata

Collects: Captain America #25-48

Continuing the story begun in Winter Soldier, Red Menace, and Civil War, Ed Brubaker manages to keep this series going very strong. I have no doubt the impact of this storyline would have been much greater, had I not already known about the wealth of series featuring Steve Rogers-as-Captain America that would come afterwards. I can see how it would have been pretty shocking at the time, though.

CaptainAmerica-5.49-Interior1

The story is pretty strong, and in the first volume we see how Steve’s death impacts those who have fought alongside him for years and even decades. Brubaker and the art team do a great job of portraying the pall of gloom that descends on the core members of S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man, but especially Bucky (Winter Soldier) Barnes and Natasha (Black Widow). We also learn of Rogers’ wish that Bucky should take on the mantle of Captain America. This is quite a contentious issue, given Bucky’s status as a wanted criminal (the Winter Soldier, you’ll remember, was a Russian assassin). What follows over the course of the three Death of Captain America books is a combination of survivors getting to grips with the new reality, a significant amount of soul-searching (without ever getting too ‘emo’), and Bucky’s growth into the role of Captain America. Understandably, it takes a while before our new star-spangled hero gets even remotely comfortable in his new role, and Red Skull and a small clutch of evil minions certainly don’t make things easy.

CaptainAmerica-5.49-Interior2

Speaking of Red Skull et al… I can’t help but think of some of these classic Captain America villains as being rather more cartoony than can properly survive in modern comics, with modern tastes. Certainly, Brubaker & Co. have done a superb job with the story and the artwork (very atmospheric throughout), but the Red Skull, Armin Zola… Too silly, in my opinion.

Sharon Carter’s storyline was a little too drawn out, I think. It was interesting, certainly (and there are a couple of shocking reveals along the way), but I think this could have been handled better, without resorting to some rather cheesy ‘classic’ plot devices.

This problem is sidestepped in Man With No Face, as Brubaker places Bucky’s past – as Cap’s sidekick and as Winter Soldier – at the centre of the conflict. The story revolves around a couple of mission in China, and a decades-long plot for revenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this one (perhaps more than the Death of… storyline, which did start to feel a little dragged out). This fourth book is an interesting story. The eponymous antagonist (sort-of: the Man Without a Face) is truly creepy, but his boss is even more creepy in his lack of super-powers or weird ‘evil’ deformities (I can’t say more without ruining things). The story is filled with slow burn, noirish touches, and I was hooked throughout.

All of these books, but especially the latter, are great, and continue the story brilliantly. For me, Brubaker’s Captain America will always be the Captain America for me. I love this series, and am very glad I have a few more books to read…

Highly recommended.

*

CaptainAmerica-ManOutOfTime-TPBCAPTAIN AMERICA: MAN OUT OF TIME

Writer: Mark Waid | Artist: Jorge Molina | Inks: Karl Kesel | Colors: Frank D’Armata

When the Avengers pull a mysterious, tattered soldier from the sea, they unwittingly bring back to life the Living Legend of World War Two – a man whose memories of a life sixty years ago are as fresh as yesterday! How will Steve Rogers, frozen in suspended animation for half a century, adapt to the world of the 21st century?

Collects: Captain America – Man Out of Time #1-5 (complete mini-series)

This is a great story. We see Steve Rogers slowly come to grips with the new time, from its history and tech to his place within it. Tony Stark gradually brings Cap up to speed and into the modern age, showing him a number of developments, exhibitions at the Smithsonian, and more. We learn of how he survived: it seems that he fell into the sea and (somehow) became frozen on the day Bucky was blown up on a plane (to later re-emerge as the Winter Soldier).

CaptainAmerica-ManOutOfTime-02-Interior2

Frankly, Waid knocks it out of the park. It is a brilliant story, written with heart and nuance. The author’s trademark subtle and gentle humour is also on display. Waid also uses Captain America’s reintroduction to his own country as a means to offer up some social, political and cultural commentary, too, which I thought he handled very well.

The artwork is often stunning, and certainly enhances the story (though sometimes the faces were a smidge more cartoony than I like), and this is both a moving and striking graphic novel. The many full-page images, for example, are particularly wonderful and evocatively composed (see below for but two examples).

Man Out Of Time is very highly recommended indeed. A must, in fact, for fans of the character.

CaptainAmerica-ManOutOfTime-FullPagePieces

Mini-Review: Fatale, Vol.1 – “Death Chases Me” (Image)

CRIM008_cvrWriter: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Sean Phillips | Colors: Dave Stewart

In modern times, Nicolas Lash stumbles upon a secret that will lead him down the darkest path imaginable… to a seductive and ageless woman who’s been on the run since the 1930s.

And in 1950s San Francisco, reporter Hank Raines crosses paths with that same woman and gets caught in a vicious triangle between a crooked cop and a man who is more monster than man.

But who is Josephine and what is her secret? And how many men will die and kill for her?

Collects: Fatale #1-5

Brubaker and Philips’s Fatale is an interesting, if flawed blend of noir-ish thriller and horror suspense and weirdness. The series has enjoyed plentiful good and middling coverage in all comic-related corners of the internet. I’m not really sure I can add much to the discussion, to be honest. After finishing it, I found I had very little opinion on it – positive or negative.

The story is fine: there are corrupt cops; a rash of strange, “cult killings” all over San Francisco. This first volume follows a number of slightly-muddled story-threads, which all lead up to an underground confrontation with a cult-leader (who is a lot more than he appears to be). Josephine appears to have a strange, powerful allure for apparently all men she encounters – and, of course, a mysterious past. Despite my interest in such stories, though, Fatale never really managed to excite my interest beyond the cursory.

The artwork is good, and certainly enhances the atmosphere and noir-feel to the story, but it is sadly not a style I would spend much time lingering over.

I think Fatale would have worked much better as a prose-novel. It was too fast-paced near the end, despite an almost agonizingly-slow build up at the start. Despite my qualms and reservations, it will be interesting to see how the series develops in the second volume, but I wouldn’t rush to buy it. (Luckily, I recently got Volume 2 through NetGalley, so I could get to it a lot quicker than I otherwise would have done).

In conclusion, then, and coming from a huge fan of Brubaker’s other work – specifically his initial run on Marvel’s Captain America (and Winter Soldier), Gotham Central (review coming soon), and also Batman: The Man Who Laughs – I’m sad to say that this was a massive disappointment.

I borrowed Fatale Volume 1 from the local library.

Fatale-Vol.01-Content