Quick Reviews: C.O.W.L., MERCENARY SEA, UNDERTOW, WICKED + DIVINE (Image)

COWL-Vol.01C.O.W.L., Vol.1 — “Principles of Power”

Writers: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel | Artist: Rod Reis | Cover: Trevor McCarthy

Welcome to the “Chicago Organized Workers League” — the world’s first Super-Hero Labor Union!

While C.O.W.L. once stood as a beacon of hope against an epidemic of organized crime and an unbeatable “brotherhood” of Super-Villains, the union now faces its fiercest foe yet — a disillusioned public. In targeting the last of the great villains, C.O.W.L. attempts to prove its value to the world and to each other, while staving off villainy from both outside and inside its offices.

In 1962, the union faces a disillusioned public, scandal, and a new era of threats.

Collects: C.O.W.L. #1-5

This was a pretty good start to a new series. Set in Chicago, we get a melange of noir super-hero/detective action, local labour politics, and internal tensions. The story has everything to make it attractive to a large swathe of the comics readership. The artwork is rough, but that suits the story perfectly. It’s pretty slow-moving, though, and “Principles of Power” is very much setting up what I assume will be a large story arc: pieces are maneuvered into position, political and social realities exert pressures on the corrupt and idealistic alike. Obstacles are removed. I think this could end up becoming a classic. Definitely recommended.

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MercenarySea-Vol.01THE MERCENARY SEA, Vol.1

Writer: Kel Symons | Artist: Mathew Reynolds

Action and adventure set in 1938 — The South Seas. Japan has invaded China. War in Europe is imminent. Ex-bootlegger Jack Harper captains The Venture, a refitted German U-Boat, with a crew of expats, mercenaries and treasure hunters. They do whatever it takes to stay afloat, often running up against pirates, headhunters, spies, and soldiers. They’re always one step away from the greatest score of their lives… or their certain demise.

Collects: The Mercenary Sea #1-6

This series pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin: high adventure, action and shenanigans in the late ’30s. It does a rather good job, too, and was a fun read. It didn’t blow me away, but it was certainly enjoyable. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a break from super-heroes, but not a break from action and adventure. The artwork is rather simple, not bad, but not always great. Blocky colouring means it’s not as nuanced as many other comic, but it’s an interesting and eye-catching style. Recommended.

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Undertow-Vol.01UNDERTOW, Vol.1 — “Boatman’s Call”

Writer: Steve Orlando | Artist: Artyom Trakhanov

Atlantis is the world superpower, and Redum Anshargal is its worst enemy. If you want to break free of the system, he can offer you a place at his side, exploring the wild surface world in his watertight city barge The Deliverer. He and his hostage-protege Ukinnu Alal hunt the Amphibian, a legend that could be the key to an air-breathing life on land. But as they become the hunted, can Anshargal’s team survive long enough to turn the tables on the godlike beast they set out for? A brand new pulp monster adventure with Ray Harryhausen at its heart and a look at Atlantis like never before.

Collects: Undertow #1-6

This was an interesting book. It took a bit longer than I usually like to get stuck into the story, but I think it’s pretty cool. I enjoyed the reversal of power and fortune — Atlantis as the dominant power, and the exploration of dry land from under the sea, rather than the usual opposite. The artwork is rough and interesting, but also rather psychedelically coloured. I didn’t love the series, but I think it’s a decent start to a new series. I’ll be back for volume two, but I won’t necessarily be rushing to buy and read it. Worth reading if you’re a fan of science fiction comics with a twist.

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WickedAndDivine-Vol.01THE WICKED + DIVINE, Vol.1 — “The Faust Act”

Writer: Kieron Gillen | Art & Cover: Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #1-5

This was frankly marvellous. It starts well and just gets better and better. Gillen et al manage to pack in a lot into these first five issues — the scene is set, the mythology explained (elegantly — there’s no clunky info-dumping), the characters established. Lucifer (“Luci” for short) is awesome, and probably my favourite, although the Underground-dwelling Morrigan was also delightfully twisted. The artwork is clear and sharp, brilliantly coloured (alternately atmospheric and vivid). The writing is excellent, never cliche and always engaging. I do love the mash-up of urban fantasy, the divine, and celebrity culture.

Very highly recommended, I can’t wait for volume two.

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The Importance of a Super-Hero Diaspora…

That’s a rather grand title. Rather than some deep analysis of why super-heroes should be based and from all over the world, this was just inspired by the fact that a). three super-heroes (at least) have re-located, and b). New York and Gotham have become ridiculously over-populated by super-heroes in Marvel’s and DC’s lines.

Marvel&DC-NewYorkGotham

New York City, while I love it, has become rather ridiculous in terms of Marvel’s super-heroes. I remember at least one comic picking up on the fact that you’d have to be a moron to try to be a (super-)villain in the Big Apple, given the sheer saturation-level population of super-powered, tights-wearing do-gooders. There are the ever-expanding Avengers teams and their various off-shoots and allies. Given how often the city is destroyed, one has to wonder why they decided to locate their headquarters right in the middle of America’s most densely-populated metropolis. Thankfully, though, Marvel seems to be doing something to add some variation into the mix. Namely, The Punisher and Daredevil are leaving the city. This last one is particularly noteworthy, given how important Hell’s Kitchen and its surrounding neighbourhoods are to that book’s and hero’s identity – not to mention the rest of the city. As it happens, these have been my two favourite Marvel titles ever since I started reading them (in the same week, as it turned out). Greg Rucka and Mark Waid have done a great job with writing duties, and the artwork for both books has been stunning.

So, here are some details on the moves, both of which are part of the All-New Marvel NOW! Endlessly-Extending Prefixes Strategy…

Punisher-01ATHE PUNISHER: Moving to LA

“Frank Castle’s one-man-war on crime continues… For years, the Punisher has called New York City his home – keeping a watchful eye on the city through the sight of a gun. But when a lead on a major source of drugs, weapons, and more leads Frank out west – he sets his sights on Los Angeles. And the City of Angels isn’t ready for a devil like the Punisher! But not everything is as it appears, and Frank will soon find himself toe-to-toe with a highly trained military strike force known only as the 131! Who are the mysterious 131? And why are they out for the Punisher’s head?”

The new Punisher series was launched in February 2014. Greg Rucka’s relatively short run on the series was absolutely superb (I recently finished it off, thanks to a 99c sale on ComiXology): not only was Rucka’s writing and story gripping and appropriately gritty, but Marco Checcheto’s artwork is stunning. The new series is written by Nathan Edmondson (whose Ultimate Comics: X-Men and The Activity were pretty good). Artwork will be by Mitch Gerads. It’ll be interesting to see how the character adapts to his new environment – although, given that he has travelled abroad before (including in Rucka’s run), it probably won’t be too different. Nevertheless, I really hope Edmondson manages to maintain the quality – it’s a great character, and the extreme shades of grey in which he operates allow for some pretty great/powerful storytelling opportunities.

Punisher-01&02-PalmtreeCovers

Variant Covers for #1 (Larocca) and #2 (Opena)
Palm trees! He still looks miserable, though…

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Daredevil-01ADAREDEVIL: Moving to San Francisco

“Gifted with an imperceptible radar sense, blind lawyer Matt Murdock patrols the streets with a Billy club and a passion for justice. Only this time – it’s a brand new city, with even more dangerous foes. Join Matt Murdock as he journeys from the dark streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the sun-drenched boulevards of San Francisco.”

In March 2014, the Man Without Fear will be relocating to beautiful San Francisco. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages in the new city – his approach to vigilantism has always involved an awful lot of swinging and leaping around New York’s high-rises, so… Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how his approach changes. (To be fair, I don’t really know much about San Francisco, but I get the impression it’s not too built up…) Mark Waid will continue to handle writing duties, and Chris Samnee will still be producing the artwork. I’m really looking forward tot his re-boot (call it what it is).

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Nightwing-19-Preview2

It’s not just Marvel characters, though. Gotham City is home to the extended Bat-Family and ever-extending Rogues’ Gallery that have plagued the Dark Knight on-and-off for decades. Last year, however, Dick “Nightwing” Grayson departed Gotham City for the Windy City in issue #19. Here are some excerpts from CBR’s interview with writer Kyle Higgins on Grayson’s move…

“I made the decision that if Dick was going to change cities, it needed to be story motivated. It couldn’t just be because of emotional fallout and state of mind… He’s heading to Chicago to find the man that killed his parents. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the only reason he’s going and once that’s over, he’ll be heading back to Gotham City. We’ll have to see how the story plays out, as to whether or not that will happen, but as far as Dick is concerned initially, that’s what he’s headed to Chicago for… Chicago has its own mythology and its own history that we’re tapping into and it’s definitely going to be playing a big part in Dick and Nightwing’s life moving forward.”

I’m quite behind on Nightwing, having not read any issues after the end of “Death of the Family”. I’d like to pick it up again, though, at some point.

Nightwing-20-Interior1

Of course, one thing that still needs to be addressed (and there are some signs that this is happening, for which we can only be happy, and hope for continued progress). Let’s hope we get a little more diverse than just re-locating a Justice League team further north into Canada (which, actually, I do think could be rather cool), and explore countries outside North America and the UK as more than just mission destinations…