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.

Graphic Novel Round-Up (September)

GraphicNovelsRead-201309-1

I’ve not been keeping on top of graphic novels and comics as I had been – just been too busy and distracted. Nevertheless, this weekend I was able to catch up on some, so I decided to write very quick reviews of those that stood out.

Reviewed: East of West, Vol.1; Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol.3; Astro City, Vol.1, Archer & Armstrong, Vol.1

*

EastOfWest-Vol.01East of West, Vol.1 – “The Promise” (Image)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman | Artist: Nick Dragotta

This is the world. It is not the one we wanted, but it is the one we deserved. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the Earth, signaling the End Times for humanity, and our best hope for life, lies in DEATH.

Collects: East of West #1-5

This is a pretty interesting series. It was much-hyped when it was first published, but I nevertheless waited for the first story-arc/volume to be available. It is a dystopian future, where much of life seems to have been consolidated onto the American continent. There is an apocalyptic storyline that keeps you guessing, as three of the four horsemen ride out (after being reborn) to track down their missing fourth. Death, as it happens, is the MIA horseman, and he is pursuing his own agenda and mission. Specifically, to find his missing love.

EastOfWest-Vol.01-Interior6

There’s a fair mount going on in the first issues that make up this opening story-arc. It’s well-written and very well-rendered. The artwork is superb, with not a few arresting pages and panels (see, for example, above and below). The story has a lot of influences that one might be able to spot (I couldn’t say for definite if they are genuine influences, or just things I spotted and have associated with my own science fictional/dystopian favourites).

EastOfWest-Vol.01-Interior4

It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this series shapes up in both the short and long-run. Count me in for the long-haul. This is a must-read for anyone who likes dystopian futures, apocalyptic stories, with a healthy dose of futuristic politics, technology, weirdness, and an expertly written story. The artwork complements Hickman’s narrative excellently. Plenty of surprises, but pleasantly familiar at the same time. Recommended.

*

Wolverine&XMen-09Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol.3 (Marvel)

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artists: Chris Bachalo & Nick Bradshaw | Colors:

AvX tie-in! Wolverine is torn between two teams! Cyclops comes to the Jean Grey School to extend an olive branch, but will Wolverine’s X-Men join their estranged ex-teammates against the Avengers? And even if they do, will the students follow their lead? After seeing the events of AvX, the kids have a choice to make – but it may not be what you expect!

Plus: Iceman vs. Red Hulk! Kid Gladiator goes after the Avengers single-handedly! The Shi’ar Death Commandos take on the Phoenix! And the secret history of Warbird!

Collects: Wolverine & the X-Men #9-13

I enjoy this series a lot, actually. At first, I had been left a bit wary by the sense of humour, but it has leveled out very well – it’s quirky, funny, and well written. This volume, however, while still enjoyable, also highlights all of my issues with Marvel’s near-endless cross-title Events. In this case, the too-long-running Avengers vs. X-Men. Now, I was lucky that I had read the AvX twelve-issue mini-series, which meant I did have an overall idea of what was happening. However, without that, this book would have come across bitty and confusing: the characters jump about too much, not to mention suddenly, and it feels very much like only a small part of a larger story. There were also a few moments of fast-forward in order to prepare the characters for the massive Event. This grates, because it means Marvel consciously forced writers to refer everything back to the larger event. Therefore, this is not so much a “tie-in” but a “companion”. A pity. For those who have read the main mini-series, though, this book will give you more context and added depth to the conflicts of the central characters – particularly Wolverine. I also really liked the final chapter/issue collected here, and the background we got for Warbird, Kid Gladiator’s bodyguard. Really good issue – the art, story, everything. Excellent.

Wolverine&XMen-12-Internal3

The whole book is brilliantly rendered, actually. The contrast between Bachalo’s and Bradshaw’s artwork, while stark, does not jar when we do shift. Instead, they somehow manage to complement each other rather well. It’s vibrant, eye-catching, amusing, filled with detail and sometimes subtle. Superb support for Aaron’s writing and story, which they both really manage to bring to life.

Volume 4 is also connected to AvX, but I’ll be reading it anyway, given my fondness for the characters involved. The first two volumes focused more on the school and the new students (and the runaway bamfs, who are always amusing, as is Broo), which I hope we’ll return to in the very near future.

Wolverine & the X-Men is one of the few series that continued post-AvX basically unchanged, for which I am glad. I’ll probably read volume 4 this coming week(end).

*

AstroCity-Vol.01-ArtAstro City, Vol.1 – “Life in the Big City” (DC Comics)

Writer: Kurt Busiek | Artist: Brent Anderson

Welcome to Astro City, a shining city on a hill where super heroes patrol the skies. Each chapter in this collection is a standalone story, highlighting different aspects or characters in the Astro City world. The city’s leading super hero tries to be everywhere at once, and berates himself for every wasted second as he longs for just a moment of his own. A smalltime hood learns a hero’s secret identity, and tries to figure out how to profit from the knowledge. A beat reporter gets some advice from his editor on his first day on the job. A young woman tries to balance the demands of her family with her own hopes and desires. Despite the fantastic settings, the characters in these slice-of-life stories feel like real people, and that gives the stories real power.

I’m not really sure what to write about this book. It is certainly interesting and worth reading – especially if you are a fan of comic-book heroes in general. The first chapter focuses on a very busy super-hero: he’s super-focused on saving as many people as possible, while also keeping down his job as a fact-checker at a publication. Unfortunately, he never seems to have the time to enjoy his super-powers. Like flying. It’s a very nice story, and the character is re-visited later in the book, when he goes on a date with a heroine of the city. This was an interesting chapter, which looked at the motivations of super-powered vigilantes, and also touched upon some of the classic clichés and patronizing tone leveled at female characters (which is, of course, the point).

The book is filled with nostalgic touches, from the use of a newspaper office as a location (a nod to Superman), but also the “$” signs on the swag bags from the robbery. It’s really quite fantastic. True, I think much of the attraction comes from nostalgia and a wish to peal back the curtain on the lives of super-heroes and those their actions impact.

If you are familiar with classic super-hero tropes, and are looking for both a nod to nostalgia and a development of the lives of these heroes, then Astro City is a must read. This is a really interesting introduction to the series, and I look forward to reading more of it. Certainly recommended.

*

Archer&Armstrong-Vol.01Archer & Armstrong, Vol.1 – “The Michelangelo Code” (Valiant)

Writer: Fred Van Lente | Artist: Clayton Henry, Pere Peréz (#3-4) | Colors: Matt Milla

It’s history in the breaking! After years of meditation and training, 18-year-old Obadiah Archer has been dispatched to New York City to carry out the sacred mission of his family’s sect – locate and kill the fun-loving, hard-drinking immortal known as Armstrong! But as this naive teenage assassin stalks his prey, he’ll soon find that both hunter and hunted are just pawns in a centuries-old conspiracy that stretches from the catacombs beneath Wall Street to the heights of the Himalayas. And Archer & Armstrong will have to work together if the future is to stand any chance of surviving the past’s greatest threat!

Collects: Archer & Armstrong #1-4

This is my second Valiant collection, after the somewhat disappointing Bloodshot (sorry, it just didn’t click with me, despite my past fondness for the author’s work). After reading this collection, I must say I remain on the fence. The two protagonists had a lot of potential. Archer is the brain-washed son of a crazy, right-wing, creationist power-couple – the opening pages of the book leave little doubt as to how we’re supposed to think about them (if any member of the GOP needs ‘proof’ that publishing were an anti-conservative brand of the liberal media…). Armstrong is the immortal, and shares not a few characteristics with Obelix. This does not make Archer an Asterix analogue, but their relationship does have shade of the Gaulish favourites. Archer is tasked with killing He Who Must Not Be Names (Armstong), and to that end is shipped off to New York City, that hive of villainy and sin. But, our young crusader quickly comes across evidence that his parents are actually the crazy, evil bastards that he has been brought up to abhor. Naturally, this comes as something of a shock to our highly-gifted, rather deadly young hero. Together with Armstong, he sets off on a mission to save the world from the evil machinations of the Sect, who know nothing of the forces with which they are meddling.

Archer&Armstrong-Vol.01-Interior1

I’m not sure if this was meant to be taken at all seriously. I get the feeling that Van Lente and Co. are aiming for truth-through-farce, which is something they have certainly managed to achieve. The tone is light throughout – sometimes too light. True, I do like a bit of darkness in my comics, but this title seemed to not quite get the appropriate balance – when a supposedly ‘serious’ scene came along, it was overshadowed by something silly that happened either just before or immediately after. The “commentary” was at times rather forced, blunt, and simplistic, which weakened the impact. The humour ranged from smile-worthy to meh. (That really should be a technical term… Sadly, it just just an onomatopoeic way of indicating my lack of enthusiasm.)

Archer&Armstrong-Vol.01-Interior3

The story was a bit run-of-the-mill, focusing on one-percenters led mega-conspiracy to keep the masses poor and downtrodden. And yet, despite the unevenness, the lack of preparedness for the tone… I kept reading.

Archer&Armstrong-Vol.01-Interior2

I really couldn’t say for sure if I thought this was actually good or just so bad it went out the other side and became readable. There are certainly things I didn’t like, and yet it seems to be knowingly poking fun at all of the things I like to poke fun at, too. It’s left me rather unsure what I think. I hate that…

Archer&Armstrong-Vol.01-Interior4

Will I be reading the next story-arc? Well… maybe. I’m not in any hurry to do so, but given the frequency with which Valiant Comics offers sales on ComiXology, I will probably be tempted in the not-to-distant future.