J. Michael Stracyznski’s Superman: Earth One graphic novels are essentially the Man Of Steel by way of Michael Bay: lots of action and sexy ladies but not very much ingenuity. Superman: Earth One Vol. 2 (DC) is an improvement over the first installment largely because it doesn’t feature a cheap Galactus rip-off ruining Superman’s origin, but there are still plenty of questionable story developments. The very first panel spotlights Clark’s initial article for the Daily Planet, an interview with Superman that crosses all kinds of journalistic ethical boundaries. And yes, a Superman story requires that the reader suspend the disbelief that people won’t make the connection that Clark is Superman, but how could someone like Lois Lane not put the pieces together when Clark is the only person to get an exclusive interview with someone that looks exactly like him? Especially when she spends this entire volume looking into Clark’s past.
The real groans come courtesy of this book’s Clark Kent subplot, which finds him unable to have sex with his hot neighbor because he will destroy her vagina. Clark wants to hit that, but he can’t forget the words of his father: “Man of steel—woman of tissue paper.” It’s an awkward way of humanizing the hero, and when Clark temporarily loses his powers fighting the Parasite, he’s ends up just whining instead of taking advantage of his new situation. Stracyznski has a ham-handed way of trying to bring a human side to the fantastic drama, throwing in one-note characters like the Parasite’s sister Theresa and Clark’s heroin-addicted neighbor Eddie for failed attempts at poignancy.
Shane Davis’ artwork suits to the script; he’s a strong artist when it comes to explosive action, but his character work leaves something to be desired. Facial expressions and body types are fairly standard throughout, although his redesign for the Parasite does have an added creep factor with all those added yellow energy sacs, which grow like tumors when the villain charges up. This volume ends with the promise of Luthor in the future, reimagined as married couple Alexandra and Lex (Lex2), who will be teaming up with the military to kill Superman. Maybe the third time will be the charm for Superman: Earth One, although Lex2 isn’t the most inspiring tease.
Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil is arguably his greatest superhero work (so good it landed on our list of the best comics of the ’00s), and he teams with longtime friend and former Daredevil writer David Mack to tell the final tale of Marvel’s horned hero. With Mark Waid’s current run actively moving Daredevil out of Frank Miller’s shadow, Daredevil: End Of Days #1 (Marvel) triumphantly leaps back into the darkness, telling the brutal story of Matt Murdock’s fall with gritty artwork courtesy of Miller’s artistic collaborators Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz.
Bendis and Mack waste no time destroying their hero, beginning the issue with Matt Murdock’s last stand against Bullseye, one that ends with Daredevil getting his face smashed in on the sidewalk as the city watches. After the vicious opening, the story shifts to Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, because wherever there’s a great Daredevil story, there tends to be Ben Urich. J. Jonah Jameson wants Urich to do some good ol’ investigative journalism and look into Murdock’s death, which causes Urich to stumble upon a mystery with only one clue: “Mapone,” Daredevil’s last word. This quest leads to a lot of eulogizing, with Urich providing a considerable recap of the missing years of Murdock’s life, including his murder of the Kingpin and subsequent disappearance from society. And just when it seems like this will be a story about Ben Urich telling the true story of Daredevil’s life and death, a horned figure watches him from the rooftops, ending the issue with a cliffhanger that reveals there’s more to Bendis and Mack’s story than previously thought.
There’s a captivating plot here, but the main draw of End Of Days is the art team of Janson and inker Sienkiewicz, who also provides painted flashback sequences. These two artists have a deep history with the character, and while they don’t produce the prettiest artwork, it’s a perfect match for the bleak script. There’s a sketchy roughness that makes it look like the characters have had to trudge through hell to get where they are now, and the physiques of Daredevil, Bullseye, and Kingpin are grotesquely exaggerated to emphasize how different they are from normal civilians like Urich or Jameson. Waid’s current Daredevil is fantastic, but End Of Days is a strong return to a more severe version of the character, showing that there’s merit in both interpretations.
Like Brandon Graham’s epic graphic novel King City, Multiple Warheads #1 (Image) began its life at another publisher before finding a new home at Image Comics. Readers who missed out on Oni Press’s initial chapter of his science-fiction series won’t have any trouble jumping into this first full-color issue, although it’s definitely worth seeking out the hard-to-find introductory chapter. Like all of Graham’s works, Multiple Warheads is an incredibly imaginative story with sly wit and charming characters, notably dense but inviting and entertaining for readers who are unfamiliar with Graham’s trademark style. That style is a mix of sex, action, and comedic wordplay put through a visual filter that combines manga, graffiti, and underground fashion design, resulting in something new and exciting but still recognizable.
Multiple Warheads follows five characters: couple Sexica (an ex-organ smuggler) and Nikoli (a werewolf mechanic), their car Lenin (it’s not Stalin), Pumpkin Patch (an alien who pretends to be a god), and Nura (a current organ smuggler). As Sexica and Nikoli try to make a new life for themselves, Pumpkin Patch has hired Nura to get him some new god organs, setting her on a path that will inevitably intersect with the couple’s. As the character make their way through Graham’s pastel-colored world, the reader is treated to page after page of puns and visual gags, and the sheer multitude of jokes that Graham is able to pack into each individual panel is remarkable. At $3.99 for 48 packed pages, Multiple Warheads is one of the best values in comics, and a perfect jumping-on point for newcomers to Graham’s work.
Few comics serve up pure delight quite like A-Babies Vs. X-Babies (Marvel), which parodies this summer’s big crossover event (Avengers Vs. X-Men) by having widdle biddy babies reenact an infantilized version of the story. It’s an aggressively adorable one-shot about what happens when Cyclops steals Captain America’s Bucky teddy bear, igniting a war that spills out of the crib and into the streets. Writer Skottie Young and artist Gurihiru dare readers not to smile with each new cute, colorful page, and they fill the book with Easter Eggs: stuffed animal versions of Spider-Ham, Runaways’ Old Lace, and the Pet Avengers; a Deadpool jack-in-the-box; a Red Ronin action figure. There are some great moments when Young pokes fun at the summer event, turning Black Panther and Storm’s hasty AvX separation into a two-panel gag where they’re holding hands, then not holding hands. But the standout image of the issue comes when Wolverine is hurled into space by Hulk, where he finds Baby Galactus sucking on the moon like a bottle. The ending is a bit abrupt, but keeping the story condensed to one issue prevents the joke from getting old.
Jeff Parker’s superhero books have been going through some restructuring of late, and just as Thunderbolts transitioned to Dark Avengers, Red Hulk is becoming Red She-Hulk to spotlight General Ross’s daughter, Betty. The name may be horrible, but Red She-Hulk #58 (Marvel) is an impressive start for the new direction, firmly establishing Betty’s new mission and ending with a cliffhanger that significantly complicates her life moving forward. Betty has dedicated herself to eliminating Project Echelon, a new military endeavor that experiments on humans in hopes of creating the soldier of the future. The Marvel military has always been shady, but seeing men go to lengths that not even her insane father would drives Betty to the brink, awakening the Red She-Hulk within. The art team of Carlo Pagulayan and Wellington Alves deserve recognition for never drawing a “sexy” Red She-Hulk, giving her character the same powerful rage as her male counterparts, only with added cleavage. And after ending all of their female solo series last year, it’s nice to see Marvel push its heroines to the forefront again, with Red She-Hulk joining Captain Marvel while the Sif-centric Journey Into Mystery loomson the horizon.
A former mainstay of superhero comics, Jay Faerber has recently established himself as a notable crime writer with his Image series Near Death, and his new miniseries Point Of Impact #1 (Image) showcases his skill for creating well-rounded characters and captivating mysteries. The issue immediately kicks into high gear from the first two pages, which feature a couple canoodling in a car when a woman crashes to her death on the top of the vehicle. As the issue unfolds, readers meet the woman’s husband, her lover, and the police officers investigating her death. Each of the characters has a connection to the central death, including a police officer who was the deceased’s yoga classmate, making the crime a personal one for all parties involved. Illustrated in stark black-and-white by artist Koray Kuranel, it’s a tight beginning to the miniseries, hitting the ground running and never losing speed.
A Kickstarter success that found its way to Image Comics, Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare’s Halloween Eve #1 (Image) is a fun but rushed one-shot where the story is primarily a vehicle for Reeder’s stunning visuals. Eve works in a costume shop and hates Halloween, refusing to dress up on the holiday because she has serious self-image issues. When the costumes in the shop come to life, Eve is whisked on a Wizard Of Oz-inspired journey to Halloween Land, where she finally confronts her fear of looking in the mirror. Eve isn’t a particularly likable lead, and rather than highlighting her insecurity, the start of the issue emphasizes her abrasive personality. The Halloween Land segment reads like a quick afterthought, which is unfortunate because Reeder’s artwork for the environment is so full of life and personality.
Like many comics nowadays, Cyberforce #1 (Top Cow) was crowd-funded on Kickstarter, but unlike other titles, the money raised online is being used to distribute Cyberforce for free. Even better, Matt Hawkins has crafted an intriguing science-fiction story that will make those donors feel like their money was well spent, stripping the extreme characters of past history to tell a politically charged tale about the disintegration of society. If that sounds heady, don’t worry, there’s plenty of action between the bits of exposition to keep things moving at a quick pace. Khoi Pham has been consistently growing as an artist since his early days at Marvel, and the combination of inker Sal Regla and colorist Sunny Gho results in Pham’s strongest work to date. His linework is more confident and streamlined, and his designs take a steampunk aesthetic and update it with modern technology. It’s a great look for the title, keeping in line with the traditional Top Cow style while adding more depth to the characters and environments.
Take the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, combine its members into one badass thief, and the result would be Fabian Grey, the haunted lead of Five Ghosts #1. After an encounter with “the dreamstone,” Grey is possessed by the spirits of five classic literary characters—The Wizard (Merlin), The Archer (Robin Hood), The Detective (Sherlock Holmes), The Samurai (Miyamoto Musashi) and The Vampire (Dracula)—and while he’s able to call upon their individual abilities, they’re not happy about their imprisonment. Writer Frank J. Barbiere wisely skips over Grey’s origin to jump into the action, which involves the thief stealing mystical artifacts as Othello’s Iago trails him. It’s a daring pulp-inspired adventure, and Grey’s massive skill set allows for intense action sequences, rendered with dramatic flair by Chris Mooneyham. Mooneyham channels the evocative art of All Star Western’s Moritat with his detailed, stylized linework. It’s a simple premise that is elegantly executed by the creative team of Barbiere and Mooneyham. Five Ghosts is a sharp debut that could easily stand alongside the leading titles at the major publishers.
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