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Comics Reviewed! Simpsons, Thor, Black Widow and more!

09.23.2010

 

IMMIGRANT SONG

Thor #615 (Marvel Comics, $3.99)
By Devon Sanders

I never thought I'd see the day where Thor would become a true franchise character. Once relegated to The Avenger's resident "strong guy," not much was ever truly expected of The God of Thunder. Sure; he had his moments. You could always count on his to do something god-like such as... umm... swinging his hammer in a circle, real fast, to smash giants or The Wrecking Crew or whoever sort of walk into it first. Then, his fellow Avengers would "ooh" and "ahh" and remark about having never witnessed such raw power before. They had. Thor did this type of thing alot. Then, in the early 80's, artist/writer Walt Simonson just "got" him, made him epic, made him and his homeworld of Asgard, grand. Made him... almost too splendid. To put it bluntly, under Simonson, Thor, in his uniqueness, became too good for simple superheroics and remained in this elsewhere place The Avengers could no longer follow. Today, finds him working within a compromise, soldiering again as an Avenger, while carrying the fate of Asgard within his soul. Asgard, lies in ruin with america's heartland, awaiting to be rebuilt. Loki, brother of Thor and prince of lies, is considered dead. Death lies all around and Thor can do little about it. Meanwhile, at a table, an Asgardian listens to a human scientist warns of dire possibilities undreamt of by native man and immigrant god. Elsewhere, blood rains from the skies. Writer Matt Fraction pens a Thor story operating on multiple platforms alternating, willfully between the majestic word play and science speak of a Warren Ellis. The results are as intriguing as anything out there and leave you wanting more. Artist Pasqual Ferry is simply special. His line displays a spectacular sense of freedom while his design work is almost the stuff of dreams. Thor #615 is all whispered tales of gore, coming tides and the rise of overlords.

 

”TREEHOUSE OF HORROR” IS AN UNDERACHIEVER, AND PROUD OF IT

The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror #16 (Bongo, $4.99)
By Adam Prosser

At first I was surprised to see this hitting the stands on Sept 22nd, but hey: the actual Simpsons Halloween episode never seems to hit on Halloween either, and it makes sense to have this sitting on shelves for as long as possible. Last year, the Treehouse of Horror comic adopted an interesting new format, hiring a bunch of indie and small-press comics artists, the kind who tend to be published in “Kramer’s Ergot” and the like, to take over the book and lend their offbeat aesthetic to The Simpsons, and this issue demonstrates that the new format will be continuing. The stories on display here are a little more mainstream than last year; the one that feels most like an actual Simpsons episode is Evan Dorkin’s lead story, which pays homage to Kirby’s monster comics with a rampaging giant called The Glavin, accidentally summoned to Earth by Professor Frink. (Dorkin writes some absolutely golden dialogue for Ralph Wiggum. “The dots burn when you lick them!”) There’s also a very bizarre and genuinely creepy EC-style story by Kelvin Mao and Kelly Jones, a preview of the (apparently real) upcoming trading card set Marge Attacks!, a really unfocused Peter Kuper story that riffs on Edgar Allen Poe, and a sort-of-parody of Drag Me To Hell by Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister (yes, really). Though, like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag, it’s certainly cool to see something so unusual coming out under the banner of The Simpsons, a franchise that hasn’t seemed to have much to new to say for the last decade or so.


KICK BACK AND ENJOY: “SKULL” FEELS FRESH

Skull Kickers #1 (Image, $2.99)
By Adam Prosser

With the rise of the internet came the tools for literally anyone to make and publish their own color comic, and it’s been interesting to compare the resulting decade or so of webcomics with traditional comics. Some genres and styles were so underserved by print comics, and so eagerly embraced by internet self-publishers, that when something like Skull Kickers comes along the immediate tendency is to say “Gee, this feels like a webcomic.” And that’s not just because writer Jim Zubkavich got his start online (he wrote and drew the acclaimed Makeshift Miracle). This story of a nameless couple of mercenaries, one human and one dwarf, in a slightly anachronistic fantasy world has the rambling, laid-back feel, the goofy, idiosyncratic humor, and slick, slightly manga-esque art (by Chris Stevens and Edwin Huang) of a lot of the better fantasy webcomics. But the most crucial thing it that it feels like a labor of love, not something pumped out (smartly or otherwise) to cash in on a popular trend or genre. There’s no obvious audience for Skull Kickers—unless you count “people who like good comics”. It’d be nice to think that’s a big enough demographic to support a comic like this on bookshelves as well as in cyberspace.

 

TANGLED WEB: "WIDOW" GETS NOIR

Black Widow #6 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

If there was anyone that was going to give Natasha Romanoff a rougher time than writer Marjorie Liu, it was tough-guy crime scribe Duane Swiercynski, now onboard as this series' new regular writer. I was sorry to see Liu leave the book-she seemed to bring a kind of inner strength to the character that too many male writers can't find beneath the surface, all the while putting her through some pretty rugged paces (the surgery scenes in the first couple issues of the new series had an physical intensity that went way beyond your typical super-powered smashup). I don't know that Swiercynski will be able to get under Natasha's skin in either that same figurative or literal sense, but he brings a well-stocked thriller-writer's toolkit to the project. If Black Widow is going to become something a bit more conventional than it appeared it might become in Liu's hands, it won't lack for expertise in execution.

Natasha, of course, is one of your secreter of Secret Avengers these days, and the last thing she needs is to have a resourceful journalist start to uncover her secrets-particularly since he's convinced one of those secrets is her involvement in his Senator father's death. She's going to have to go undercover to get at the answers… snappy patter, crosses and double-crosses, and much kicking of butt will be involved. One thing that Swiercynski has honed since coming to comics is the ability to pace a 22-page comic with the same kind of twists and turns that he brings to a 300-page novel, and without getting spoilery here, just be prepared for not everything to be what it seems.

Also coming onboard with this issue is artist Manuel Garcia. As with the shift from Liu to Swiercynski, there's a bit of a tradeoff from a style more distinctive to one more conventional, but Garcia's always been a dab hand with action, and this series is going to show that off to good advantage.

 

DO YOUR OWN THING: "THUNDERBOLTS" HIT HOME

Thunderbolts #148 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

On the one hand, Marvel tends to do a pretty good job of controlling the sprawl of their big crossover events: typically, the “main” book is relatively self-contained, with the ancillary spillover manageable enough that with a couple of introductory paragraphs, you can usually read a tie-in mini, or your regular monthly books, without feeling as though you’re missing out on anything important.

And while that’s a nice strategy for the wallet, it often feels as though it’s undercutting the fun—the purpose, in fact—of a shared superhero universe. If there are big things shaking the foundation of my favorite Four Color World (OK, Photoshop-Colored World), then Current Favorite Hero Man really ought to be a part of it, not standing on the sidelines, or having some other adventure that conveniently keeps him too busy to be part of Massive Multi-Participant Event.

This issue of Thunderbolts is a pretty fair example of how tricky this can be. Obviously, the ongoing Shadowland story impinges on it—after all, Matt Murdock’s buddy Luke Cage is running the team now, and the late (yeah, right) Bullseye was recently a Thunderbolt. And given the darkness currently surrounding Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen, this team of black ops misfits would certainly expect to play their part. But while Marvel hopes that this will entice you into joining into the Shadowland party, if you’re not reading Shadowland, Marvel doesn’t want you so confused that you’d give up on your regular Thunderbolts reading, too, so Jeff Parker gets to walk the tightrope: the mission that the team is on here is sort of tangentially related to The Hand, Hell’s Kitchen, and the like. Luke conveniently runs into an old friend (an ancient bluesman we’ve never met before), who just happens to need help from a powerful team that can go underground and look for a missing policemen, an assignment that dovetails neatly with what’s happening aboveground in Shadowland. In the meantime, Parker gives us lots of fun interaction and banter among his misfit cast, as well as continuing to make Ghost one of the more interesting supporting characters in any of Marvel’s current books.

Fill-in artist Declan Shalvey brings a nice, scrappy touch to a team whose previous artists (notably Mike Deodato) sometimes went for an overly romanticized look that doesn’t always sit well for a group of psychotic cutthroats.

Ever since the Ellis revival, Thunderbolts remains a consistently interesting book, even if this current storyline feels like a mild derail: Parker almost makes you feel as if you’re not missing anything going on over in Shadowland.

 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING SMURFS

The Purple Smurfs ($5.99, Papercutz)
by Graig Kent

We had in our grade school library many collections of les Schtroumpfs, printed in French, which I, and many other kids, checked out regularly alongside volumes of Asterix and Obelix and TinTin. While English translations of the latter two have been readily available for many years, Peyo's stories of little blue gnomes have really only been seen in English North America adapted in cartoon form. While I left the Smurfs behind (unlike, say, He-Man or, well, superhero comics) with my childhood, they've not been forgotten. I've noticed the cartoons are running again, toys are once more stocking the shelves, and, for better or worse (I predict more the latter), a big Hollywood movie later this year. The Smurfs are back and not just riding a wave of nostalgia, but reaching a new audience. Papercutz new translations of Peyo's many stories have just begun, beginning with "The Purple Smurfs" (modified from the original "The Black Smurfs") wherein a nasty little infection starts spreading around the Smurf village, turning blue Smurfs into purple, gnashing, semi-mindless zombies. Yeah, it's really the "zombie Smurfs" story you did know you wanted. This is backed up by a couple other stories, including the almost Seussian "Flying Smurf". These stories are very much the Smurfs you remember, vibrantly and cleanly illustrated, full of "Smurf" as adverb substitute (which is somewhat fun to guess at, but also kind of annoying after a while). Papa Smurf might be a bit more gruff (he opens up a couple cans of whoop-smurf in this volume) and some of the other Smurfs aren't that destinctive without the voices behind them, but they don't need to be, really. Amusing and accessible, a curiosity for adults but certainly great fun for the young ones.

 

THIS WEEK'S TALKING POINTS:

There haven't been that many popular fantasy comics, have there? What are some of your favorites?

Some people have trouble with Thor, a purely fantastical being, as a member of the Avengers (witness his treatment in "The Ultimates"). Do you think he works, or not?

So... Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely doing a sort-of-sequel to Watchmen? Must-see or sign of the Apocalypse?

Source: JoBlo.com

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