GN Reviews: FAIREST and HINTERKIND (Vertigo)

Two very good new collections

Fairest-Vol.04FAIREST, Vol.4 – “Cinderella: Of Mice and Men”

Writer: Marc Andreyko | Artist: Shawn McManus |

Cinderella returns in an all-new epic! After an assassination attempt on Snow White, Cind is called back into service to unravel an age-old conspiracy that dates back to that fateful midnight ball! Can Cind uncover the plot and prevent a massacre in Fabletown?

Collects: Fairest #21-27

It should come as no surprise to long-time readers of CR that I’m a fan of Bill Willingham’s ever-expanding Fables universe. Whether it’s the main series itself, or Jack of Fables, or the Cinderella mini-series, I have loved them all. I read an very much enjoyed the aforementioned Cinderella mini-series, with their blend of fantasy and espionage (From Fabletown with Love and Fables Are Forever — both written by Chris Roberson). Therefore, I was rather pleased to discover that Cinderella returns in this Fairest story-arc. This is a bit of a strange story, but one that fits perfectly with the Fables-esque twisting of fable and fairy tale.

In this one, a strange loop-hole in the spell that turned rodents into Cinderella’s footmen to take her to the ball results in decades of poor decisions. As the perpetrator’s actions come back to bite him (and many others) in the ass, Cinderella must reprise her role as spy and Fables operative. It’s a really fun, quick-moving, country-hopping tale. With excellent artwork and writing, Fairest Volume 4 is very highly recommended — if you’ve been following the series already, you won’t be disappointed.

Also on CR: Reviews of Fairest Volumes 1 (Wide Awake), 2 (Hidden Kingdom) and 3 (The Return of the Maharaja)

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Hinterkind-Vol.2HINTERKIND, Vol.2 – “Written In Blood”

Writer: Ian Edginton | Artist: Francesco Trifolgi | Colors: Cris Peter | Cover: Greg Tocchini

The second volume of the hit series begins with Princess Tersia, who has a vision of the future and the shape of things to come. In this vision she’s married to Jon Hobb and carrying his baby. Oh, and there’s a dragon! Is it a dream or a nightmare? Meanwhile, bounty hunters Starla and Jubal find the tables are turned as they’re run to ground by a Centaur posse.

Collects: Hinterkind #7-12

This was a very pleasant surprise. If you caught my review of the first Hinterkind collection (The Waking World), you will have read that I thought it failed to deliver on its promise. In this second collection, however, it delivered in spades.

The cast of character we follow has been considerably expanded, and the story spends far more time on plot and character development than world-building. Palace politics, international relations, and fights for survival infuse every scene: the Sidhe are going through internecine elite intrigue, the vampire nation is on a crusade (sinister bastards, these ones), and the remnants from volume one are still fleeing persecution of one form or another. Some things have disappeared entirely from the story, which is a little strange, but I nevertheless welcomed the forward momentum.

If you are a fan of urban fantasy, and the idea of characters of myth, legend and fables taking over the world, then Hinterkind is an absolute must-read. True, the first book isn’t as great as one could hope, but volume two rewards those who stick with the series.

A complete turn-around, this is highly recommended.

Hinterkind, Vol.2 – “Written in Blood” is due to be published in December 2014, so there’s plenty of time for you to go out and catch up with the first collection.

Batman & Robin, Vol.2-3: “Batman vs. Robin” & “Batman and Robin Must Die!” (DC)

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I’m still catching up with a huge backlog of comics/graphic novel reviews, but I decided to collect these two books together. Partly because they’re obviously connected, but also because I wanted to get the reviews out of the way. After liking the first volume in Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin run far more than I anticipated (I’ve written plenty of times how I think he’s highly over-rated), I dove in to the second and third volume pretty soon afterwards. (Told you I was being slow with reviewing…) Sadly, my pleasant surprise at the quality of volume one evaporated with these two books. These are, frankly, not so good.

Volume 2: “Batman vs. Robin”

Batman&Robin-Vol.2Writer: Grant Morrison | Artist: Cameron Stewart (#7-9), Andy Clarke (#10-12) | Colors: Alex Sinclair (#7,10-12), Tony Avina (#8-9,11) | Inks: Scott Hanna (#10-12)

The new Batman and Robin uncover clues involving the mysterious death of Bruce Wayne before facing off against each other in a heated battle instigated by Robin’s mother that both heroes will regret – if they live through it! Featuring a 3-issues storyline that ties into the best-selling BLACKEST NIGHT event titled “Blackest Knight,” this new collection is a must-have for both new readers and longtime fans of Grant Morrison’s Batman epic as the superstar writer unveils more of his genre-defying masterplan!

Collects: Batman & Robin #7-12 (pre-52)

We start in London. And this is the Grant Morrison I know. The story contains some thinly-veiled (to a Brit, at least) social and political commentary. Nothing wrong with this per se, but it wasn’t particularly well-done. Also, #7 (the first chapter in this book) was a bit muddled, to be honest. Suddenly, Batwoman’s there (why?), and also the Knight & Squire. Frankly, this was not good, following the previous issues.

Newcastle vs. London? Really? Writing a Geordie accent is never a good idea. Just sayin’.

The Batwoman story and presence was dealt with in two pages. There was some linkage to Morrison’s Event that killed Batman. It was not great, and rather rushed. Oh, and then Damian takes over as chairman of the board for Wayne Enterprises! At age 10! Of course! That isn’t moronic at all!

This book starts the return of Bruce Wayne. The story has moments which are quite fun, but the dialogue can sometimes be awful… (“It’s like the whole house is coming to life.” – #10, p.11) The story jumps forward, after getting us some way through the ‘treasure hunt’, only to not bother with the end of it. This just reinforces my belief that Morrison is a lazy writer. The story was half-assed. Really disappointing. At the same time, I didn’t see the end coming. So there’s that, I suppose.

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Volume 3: “Batman and Robin Must Die!”

BMROBBMD_DLX_DJ.qxdWriter: Grant Morrison | Artist: Frazer Irving (#13-16), Cameron Stewart (#16) | Colors: ?

On the eve of Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham City, the new Batman and Robin team that battled crime during his absence must deal with the return of The Joker.Then, Grant Morrison connects the BATMAN & ROBIN story with the bestselling THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE in the climactic showdown between Batman and The Black Glove.

And in a story illustrated by acclaimed artist David Finch, learn what happens to Dick Grayson after the “real” Batman returns.

Collects: Batman & Robin #13-16 (pre-52)

So, so sloppy.

That is basically how I feel about this book. It feels like Morrison is in a hurry to get things over with. The book ends with Batman Incorporated established – an event that spawned one of the worst books I’ve read. It is a dismal finish. Bruce Wayne just appears back in action at the end. There’s no real development of why or how (I assume one had to read The Return of Bruce Wayne and who knows how many other books/issues to get the full story).

So much has happened to the Bat-franchise during Morrison’s tenure at the helm, and I’m not at all convinced it’s all (or even mostly) good… This was, in many ways, complete gibberish. Maybe, as I’m sure die-hard Morrison fans will argue/wail, I just don’t “get” it, that he’s writing on a level that is above my comprehension. Ultimately, though, I just think he’s a bad writer.

I think I’ll probably just borrow the New 52 Batman Incorporated from my local library (it gets an excellent selection of New 52 books in), as once again he’s been handed the reins for another game-changing event. (Seriously, how can anyone think he’s the best choice, when compared to everyone else currently writing for a Bat-title?!)

I much prefer Peter Tomasi’s take on Damian Wayne, in the New 52 Batman & Robin. Tomasi’s writing overall is also superior in pretty much every way. Actually, everyone else working on Batman-related titles is doing a better job by far. I think I’m done attempting to find the supposed genius and/or magic in Morrison’s work. It just isn’t there, and I’m disappointed every time. Well, always except for one instance: Action Comics #0 wasn’t bad.

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A closing comment for both of the books: the art is good. The one benefit of Morrison’s reputation, is that DC has allowed him to work with some exceptionally talented artists. For that, at least, we can be very grateful. The artists who worked on both of these books do a great job throughout.

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One final comment: At least the Pink Flamingo wasn’t present in these books. He was an utterly ridiculous character.

Ok. I’m done, now.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Fairest, Vol.2 – “Hidden Kingdom” (Vertigo)

Fairest-Vol.2Writer: Lauren Beukes (#8-13), Bill Willingham (#14) | Art: Inaki Miranda (#8-13, finishes #14), Barry Kitson (#14) | Colors: Eva de la Cruz (#8-13), Andrew Dalhouse (#14)

Rapunzel lives one of the most regimented lives in Fabletown, forced to maintain her rapidly growing hair lest her storybook origins be revealed. But when word of her long-lost children surface, she races across the sea to find them – and a former lover.

Collects: Fairest #8-14

Ever since I bought Fables Deluxe Vol.1, I have been in love with Willingham’s fantasy series (and everything connected to it). Then Fairest started in 2011, and I found a new comic addiction. This second collection collects award-winning-author Lauren Beukes’s run on the series handling writing duties. And it’s absolutely superb.

[NB: There are some slight spoilers in the review!]

Very strong start, as we are introduced to the key players – Rapunzel and her four-times-a-day hairdresser (it grows at a frightening rate). A flock of origami cranes comes crashing through her window, with a cryptic message about her kids… Nobody believes her children survived childbirth, but she’s always maintained that they have, and is determined to find out what is going on. So, with the help of the Fables’ most flexibly-moral character, Jack, she heads off to Japan. Along the way, and across the book, we get snippets of Rapunzel’s past, pre-Fabletown life. As far as I can tell, this is set a little bit before the main Fables storyline kicks in.

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It has an extremely strong opening chapter/issue, and by the end of that chapter, it was already one of the best-written comics I’ve read in a long while. Beukes definitely has the skill for writing both award-winning novels and damned fine comics. She keeps things fresh, while also remaining true to Fables creator Willingham’s sensibilities and tone (sort-of – I haven’t read anything else in the series that leans more towards horror…). The whole story is great, featuring Asian Fables, some pretty inspired creations and interpretations, a dash of horror.

The artwork throughout is wonderful – it is sharp, vivid, detailed, and utterly eye-catching. And the bezoars! The artwork connected to them… Yikes! Some of the visuals were reminiscent of Japanese/Asian horror movies, actually. Damned creepy. Beukes writes wonderful characters, and the art team does a wonderful job of bringing them to life on the page. It is, like volume one, a beautiful comic to look at, too.

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With excellent pacing, engaging and interesting characters, a blend of fantasy, horror and historical story-telling, and a bitter-sweet ending, “Hidden Kingdom” is quite brilliant. It has everything I want in a comic.

Fairest-14-Interior1The book includes a stand-alone tale at the end, written by Willingham. It’s kind of fun, actually. It’s more on the bizarre/weird side, focusing on the non-human Fables. Princess Alder (a dryad/tree nymph) is having a bit of difficulty settling in to life at the Farm – she has rather more liberal relationship mores, for example, which has got some of the male Fables all excited and exploitative. Reynard the Fox decides to show her that not all men are pigs, and they go on a date. They like each other a lot. But then, during the dinner, he makes a discovery and a mistake that he can’t move past… The story is an amusing side-bar to the main Fables story, and comes complete with an ominous post-script. (Nefarious things, they are afoot!)

Overall, another great volume set in the expanding Fables universe. Very highly recommended. This is easily one of my favourite comic series, and Beukes’s story is one of my favourites. I really hope she’s asked back to write more in the future.

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Fairest #8-14 Covers, by Adam Hughes

Batman: Dark Knight, Vol.2 – “Cycle of Violence” (DC)

BatmanDarkKnight-Vol.02Writer: Gregg Hurwitz | Artist: David Finch | Inks: Richard Friend (#10) | Colors: Sonia Oback

The Scarecrow has returned to Gotham City, but he’s no longer the meek punching bag Batman is used to. The villainous genius has always preyed on the worst fears of his victims, but has refined his legendary fear toxin to even greater effectiveness and deadlier consequences. As the Scarecrow’s origin is unfurled, Batman must find out not only how to conquer this dangerous psychopath, but how to beat his own worst fear.

Collects: Batman: Dark Knight #10-15

This story arc, the first from New York Times bestselling thriller author Gregg Hurwitz, is simply brilliant. It covers some familiar Batman-Scarecrow ground (and also back story), but with a more contemporary, sinister edge. Hurwitz has taken a very psychological approach to the story (there’s not as much action as many comic authors inject into Dark Knight tales), and he really pulls it off, delving into the mind and past of both the Scarecrow and Batman. I was hooked from the first page, and blitzed through this in one quick, satisfying sitting.

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Finch’s artwork, Oback’s colors and Friend’s inks are absolutely superb. Everything works together to enhance the story in every way: from the wonderful, clever use of shadows, shading and especially the facial expressions, to the effectively silent pages. For example, these two, from the first chapter, which were particularly powerful and moving:

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Overall, then (and excuse the short review – I don’t want to spoil the story), this is very, very good indeed. Hurwitz’s story is just all-round, dark brilliance: the writing, artwork, everything comes together perfectly. This is, without doubt, one of the best Batman stories I’ve read. The series is a keeper once again.

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Original Series Covers

For the review, I read the digital editions of the single issues, bought from ComiXology.

Sixth Gun, Vol.2 – “Crossroads” (Oni Press)

SixthGun-Vol.02Writer: Cullen Bunn | Artist: Brian Hurtt | Colors: Bill Crabtree

In the aftermath of the tragic battle of the Maw, Drake and company hide in the sprawling city of New Orleans. But as they plot their next move, they find themselves embroiled in another harrowing adventure. Unexpected threats, new enemies, and a host of strange spirits are already aligning against them.

Collects: Sixth Gun #7-11

This is just a really quick review – it’s actually been a while since I read this (and have since blitzed through the next two), but I wanted to mention it on the blog. The Sixth Gun is one of my favourite series, hands down. This makes it very tricky to review. So much of my enjoyment comes from the surprises and unexpected directions the story takes, as well as the excellent dialogue, plotting and artwork. Needless to say, if you like supernatural tales in a Wild West and 19th-Century American setting, then The Sixth Gun is a must-read.

“Crossroads” gives us an expansion on the already-awesome supernatural elements introduced in Volume 1 – this time, we get some voodoo and Southern weirdness, which I always like to read about. There are swamps and strange Haitian-inspired beasties, as Drake attempts to find a way to rid himself of the pistols (he has collected a four of them, from the cold, dead hands of their previous owners). Adding to Drake’s impatience (and Becky’s, as she owns one of the Six as well), evil forces will forever be drawn to the Six, and with only the chance of passing them on from a dead (wo)man’s hand, things are going to get very dangerous for them.

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We meet a new face, a potentially a recurring character: a smooth-talker who Becky maybe takes a shine to. He has an ulterior motive, however, and he quickly becomes involved in the hunt for the Six.

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I really love that Bunn & Co. are deepening and expanding the series mythology. The Sixth Gun is a great series, and “Crossroads” does exactly what a second volume is meant to do: it builds very nicely on what has come before, and lays down the foundation for yet more action and dark adventure to come.

Excellent and highly recommended.

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Voodoo, Vol.2 – “The Killer In Me” (DC)

Voodoo-Vol-02Writer: Joshua Williamson | Artist: Sami Basri | Colors: Jessica Kholinne

Black Razor Agent Fallon has finally tracked down Voodoo and has her cornered! Now it’s time for revenge. But Voodoo knows the truth of her own origins and will decide if she’s going to be a hero – or a villain! Then, Pris is forced to confront exactly what she has become after being experimented on by the Daemonites. She’s offered a deal by the Black Razors… but wherever way she turns, it’s guaranteed more blood will be on her hands.

Collects: Voodoo #7-12 & #0

This book brings the Voodoo series to a close. Given the critical reaction at its start, I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. I liked the ideas the series included, and it’s a pity it had to end. That being said, some of the chapters in this book felt like the series had been written off.

As the story begins, Pris has escaped from captivity, accompanied by Black Jack and Fallon. Voodoo is on the daemonite ship, facing their Council. She’s told the truth about herself, and the daemonite lord says she has to be captured and reprogrammed. She… disagrees with his assessment of the situation…

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The two groups are on a collision course, and by the second chapter,  the shit really starts to hit the fan. The chapter (issue #8) was basically one long face-off between Voodoo, Pris and Fallon. All does not go well… Strangely, Pris is offered a job by a dude from the Blackhawks (a series I’ve only read one issue of, but also another that has been axed).

Voodoo-08-Interior2The rest of the story follows all the various threads of the series being tied up – some in not particularly satisfying manner (there’s some interstellar flight, too). As Pris and Voodoo are trained, almost in parallel, by different forces – Pris by the Blackhawks, Voodoo by Helspont. Pris also discovers that Voodoo worked as a stripper in order to remain below the radar. She is not happy.

In the final chapter, the Zero Issue, we see Priscilla Kitaen’s “birth” on the daemonite ship, before freaking out and fighting her way out. It ends with her being taken into custody by the Black Razors. Then we get Voodoo’s birth as well, as a loyal hybrid. And finally, we join Grifter as his life is saved by Voodoo. I’m not sure it works at all as a “#0”, because it ends on “Continued in Grifter”… Really it’s a series epilogue. It did make me want to catch up on Grifter, though (I’ve read up to #7).

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This series crosses over with so many: Superman, Stormwatch, and Grifter. Sometimes these crossovers can be fun or interesting, but when it happens too often, which certainly feels like the case recently (there have been a number of larger, cross-title story-arcs recently). Well, it gets both irritating and expensive… I’m not sure this needed to cross over quite so much. Cameos probably would have sufficed for many scenes and snippets of exposition.

Towards the end of the book, the writing felt a little rushed, but at least it never took itself too seriously. It has a ’80s/’90s action-SF-movie feel to it: it doesn’t all make sense, there are some narrative jumps, etc. The dialogue never quite manages Expendables-levels of cheesy awesome, but that was the vibe I got, sometimes. Not bad, overall, but it’s not too difficult to see why it was sent out to pasture. For the story to really work, it would have required more time and space to properly grow. I think most people will see this was on the outs from early on in this book.

I do like the artwork a lot, though. There are so many nice little details in each issue. I really hope the team are hired on for more of another series.

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Original Voodoo Cover Art #7-12 & #0

Wonder Woman, Vol.2 – “Guts” (DC)

WonderWoman-Vol-02Writer: Brian Azzarello | Artist: Cliff Chiang (#7-8, 11), Tony Atkins (#9-10), Kano (#10) | Inks: Dan Green (#9-) | Colors: Matthew Wilson

Wonder Woman goes to hell! After playing Poseidon, Hades, and Hera against each other, Hades strikes back by kidnapping Zola and trapping her in the Underworld. It’s up to Wonder Woman — with a little help from the God of Love and the God of Smiths — to break Zola out. But what is Hades’ real game, and once you get into the land of the dead, how exactly do you get out?

Collects: Wonder Woman #7-12

I rather enjoyed the first collection of Azzarello’s run on Wonder Woman. Chiang’s artwork is great, and Azzarello’s story has some surprises and is a pretty interesting interpretation of Greek Mythology. Where the first collection, “Blood” was strong, “Guts” didn’t live up to my expectations as much as I had hoped – mainly because there’s a bit of a weak middle-section. Otherwise, though, this is still pretty interesting and it does end on a strong note.

One of the first things that jumped out at me in this book is the sinister, predatory, almost evil character Azzarello imbues the Amazons with (it involves the methods they employ to reproduce…). Wonder Woman and her allies have travelled to Mt. Aetna, seeking the help from Hephaestus (the gods’ weapon-maker). Over the course of the first chapter of “Guts”, we learn of the fate of male offspring of the Amazons, which shocks Diana’s impression of the Amazons’ culture to the core.

While in the company of Hephaestus, we also get the Wonder Woman-equivalent of the “Guns, lots of guns” scene in The Matrix. Only, they don’t just pick up guns (Wonder Woman has, initially, a more conventional, traditional approach to weaponry).

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Issue #9 onwards dropped a little in quality, I must say. The story becomes a little more odd, and gets just a tad silly. I still really enjoy the depiction of Greek mythology and so forth, but the story just didn’t feel as strong as past issues. The ending to issue #10 was… A bit meh, too. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a morality tale, or a clunky attempt at a future-redemption tale. Or if it was just a long lead up so they could have that final page, when Wonder Woman employs Eros’s guns in a particular way. I’m just not sure what to make of it. I didn’t hate it by any means, but it was an oddly-written issue.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman has become a tale of squabbling families, deals and bloody betrayals. Which is rather appropriate, I think, given the Greek Mythology that infuses Azzarello’s version of the Wonder Woman story (I have no experience reading any previous Wonder Woman series or storylines, so I can’t comment beyond this). The final chapter ends with a nice twist, before offering quite the tease for the next story arc.

I really love Cliff Chiang’s artwork. Atkins & Kano’s issues/chapters do a very good job of matching Chiang’s style, but we start to see some odd touches coming through (for example, exaggerated facial expressions – particularly Strife’s). Thankfully, Chiang returns for issues #11 and #12. The depiction of Hell is pretty interesting, too.

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Although, I’m not sure why a Greek god would re-create a hellish version of London… (Despite some earlier issues taking part there, Diana and everyone else in this series is either a Greek God/myth or American, so London is an odd choice, no?)

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To be honest, I didn’t like this collection as much as Volume 1. Despite the very strong artwork and aesthetic, Azzarello’s story (particularly the botched wedding/romance with Hel in the middle) just failed to grab my attention. Nevertheless, apart from that mid-point wobble, it is still not a bad read – I just think there have been better issues in the series, and Azzarello has definitely produced some better comics. If you’re a fan of more “modern” approaches to classic comic heroes, then I think you’ll find something in here to enjoy and meet your needs.

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Original Issue Cover Art

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Further Reading: The Atlantic ran a story on their website about Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, “Wonder Woman’s Violent, Man-Pandering Second Act” by Noah Berlatsky (who also runs Hooded Utilitarian), which I thought others might find interesting. I also had more to say about the article than I did about the book, so if you’ll indulge me…

WonderWoman-MarstonArticleImageBerlantsky believes Azzarello has betrayed the original intent of Wonder Woman’s creator. William Marston, who seems to have been quite the polymath in his day, created the character of Wonder Woman sometime in the mid-1940s, in reaction to the comics available at the time. Me being me, I tracked down the original article, and it’s pretty interesting, so I’ve included a couple of quotations from it, below.

In The American Scholar, Marston wrote that, “from a psychological angle” the comics of that era’s “worst offense was their blood-curdling masculinity.” (In “Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics”, Winter 1943/4 issue, pp.35-44, in case you’re interested in tracking it down). Berlantsky offers a nostalgic run-down of the classic ideals Marston brought to his series (space kangaroos!), and then moves on to how Azzarello has broken with it. I should mention from the outset that all I’ve read of the character has been the first two volumes of the New 52 series, and a few Justice League-related books (including Geoff Johns’ New 52 iteration of that series as well).

I won’t deal with everything from The Atlantic article, but there is one thing I’d like to pick up on. Specifically, the guns.

He takes particular objection to Chiang’s cover pieces that depict Wonder Woman wielding Eros’s guns:

“Chiang’s interior cover for issue #8 shows Wonder Woman leaping from the side, shooting two golden pistols while discarded golden shell cases rain down around her — the insufficiently swaggering golden lasso nowhere in sight. Elsewhere in the series, we get to see Wonder Woman shot in the chest; a woman displaying her gashed open and bleeding arms, a giant devouring monster zombie creature, and another interior cover showing Wonder Woman with a death’s head toting those cool golden guns again.”

Berlantsky has a point, in some respects. But, given the ending of issue #10 (which I mentioned above), there is a little bit more to it than the chance to just give Diana big, gold-plated (shiny!) guns. I do agree with him that the ending is “banal”, but perhaps I wouldn’t have used quite as strong a word. When maybe I should have. He goes on:

“The fact that the guns belong to the god Eros, and shoot bullets of violent infatuation just emphasizes that, for Azzarello, even love is a blood-curdling business best expressed through phallic firepower.”

Also possible, but part of me thinks Azzarello’s use of pistols may be more of a nod to Baz Lurman’s Romeo & Juliet (“Take up your .45-Magnum-semi-automatic swords!”) and the inspiration for updating classical weaponry for more modern firepower. I have absolutely no proof of this, though, so it’s entirely possible I’m wrong. It’s just an optional theory.

I think Berlantsky’s right, though, about Azzarello & Co.’s “eagerness to demonstrate the adultness of the adult content” of the New 52 series. But, I think he sadly does not appreciate Azzarello’s take on Greek Mythology:

“each [god/character] is rolled out to demonstrate their cool-as-shit, bad-ass powers and complicated dynastic motivations. Everybody – Hades, Wonder Woman, everyone – bargains and schemes and betrays and manipulates everyone else. It’s a god-eat-god world out there – and one built, in every way, on blood”

This is, actually, a pretty faithful interpretation of Greek mythology. In some ways, then, despite the obvious added masculinity, Azzarello has returned Diana’s story and that of her supporting cast to a point closer to the source material? True, this defeats the intended “purpose” (for want of a better word) of the original series, but it is nevertheless an interesting story. Comics writers are frequently criticized for trying new things with characters (often, it is met with Screaming Denunciation from long-time-fans, and bemused incredulity from newer readers).

Berlantsky’s article has an interesting omission, though, which I think supports his point even better than Diana taking up twinned fire-arms. One could argue that there is even more “blood-curdling masculinity” in the way Azzarello changes Diana’s classic weapon. Berlantsky says the guns are more attractive to the “(much smaller) audience of (mostly) men in their 20s, 30s, and 40s” than Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. (I always thought it was a whip, but that could just say something about me…) In this book, Hephaestus gives Diana a different whip (definitely a whip this time), which can cause some pretty nasty, fiery damage/pain/destruction. Surely it is the bastardisation of her traditional weapon (“tool”? “Accessory”?), the one that set her apart as the hero who settles conflict non-violently, that is more indicative of the shift Berlantsky wants to highlight?

Ultimately, the article finishes on a note I agree with: the justification of (using Berlantsky’s terminology) “blood-curdling masculinity” as a short-hand for “maturity and realism”. Or, in fantasy community terminology, short-hand for “grimdark”!

“But making Wonder Woman more violent doesn’t make her more mature or more real. It just makes her more conventional.”

Not mentioned in Berlatsky’s article is a Marston quotation, also from The American Scholar, his reaction after an attempt to submit Wonder Woman to a comics publisher:

“A male hero, at best, lacks the qualities of maternal love and tenderness which are as essential to a normal child as the breath of life. Suppose your child’s ideal becomes a superman who uses his extraordinary power to help the weak. The most important ingredient in the human happiness recipe still is missing – love. It’s smart to be strong. It’s big to be generous. But it’s sissified, according to exclusively masculine rules, to be tender, loving, affectionate, and alluring.”

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A lot of the article is rather dated, but there’s something nice about reading an article by a writer back in the 1940s who was so clearly irritated by male-domination of comic literature. I also rather liked this passage from Marston’s article, with regards to why people read comics:

“Nine humans out of ten react first with their feelings rather than with their minds; the more primitive the emotion stimulated, the stronger the reaction. Comics play a trite but lusty tune on the C natural keys of human nature. They rouse the most primitive, but also the most powerful, reverberations in the noisy cranial sound-box of consciousness, drowning out more subtle symphonies. Comics scorn finesse, thereby incurring the wrath of linguistic adepts. They defy the limits of accepted fact and convention, thus amortizing to apoplexy the ossified arteries of routine thought. But by these very tokens the picture-story fantasy cuts loose the hampering debris of art and artifice and touches the tender spots of universal human desires and aspirations, hidden customarily beneath long accumulated protective coverings of indirection and disguise. Comics speak, without qualm or sophistication, to the innermost ears of the wishful self. The response is like that of a thirsty traveler who suddenly finds water in the desert – he drinks to satiation.”