Comics Reviewed! Red, The Losers, Ghost Rider and more!



Brightest Day #10
by Graig Kent

Geoff Johns has been guiding the DC Universe for a few years now, first with Infinite Crisis and 52, then having a controlling hand in far reaching Superman, Green Lantern and Flash stories, and now there’s Brightest Day, the twice-monthly series he’s co-writing with Peter Tomasi and starring a host of resurrected C-list characters who have had – but not sustained – their own series. Deadman, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Firestorm: a curiously more impressive Justice League than what’s actually on display in that title. However, this isn’t a team book. Here, the leads are taking turns, trading off co-hosting duties from issue to issue, so there’s a noted lack of flow between issues. Johns and Tomasi a few issues back revealed, somewhat, the driving force behind the series (which also threads into the various Green Lantern titles, Green Arrow, Birds of Prey, and the Flash…for now), but since then the stories has been going off on character-specific tangents which likely feed into the central plot but don’t do so with any transparency. This issue focuses on the Aquaman and Firestorm stories, leading to a rather massive (or, rather, overblown) retcon/evolution of the Firestorm persona, and the reveal of a new Aqualad (at least on the cover, if not exactly the story, yet). Each character story has a different artist, with, I believe, Ivan Reis doing his best to make Aquaman look as cool as he ever has, and Joe Prado and Scott Clark working over Firestorm rather nicely. But as good as the book looks, it feels like it’s just plodding along, as if Johns knows how long the main story will take to tell and he has too many issues to fill before getting there. Either that or he and Tomasi are just winging it, at which point there’s gonna be trouble. If this were a regular, monthly series, it would likely be on the chopping block, but it’s twice-monthly status seems to be granting it some leeway, pacing-wise. Whereas I was hoping for something more energizing and even curious akin to 52, at least it’s not as bad as Countdown. If you’re not reading, you’re not missing much.



X-23 #1 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Adam Prosser

Continuing my attempt, as an X-newbie, to navigate the newly launched “Wolverine Family”, we come to the last book in the series, X-23. The premise for the character is that she’s a female clone of Wolvie named Laura Kinney, brought into being by the same shady government shenanigans that turned him into Weapon X in the first place; unfortunately, she’s had an even more brutal life than Logan, one which includes becoming a government assassin before she even hit puberty, self-mutilation, and a stint as a child prostitute. (Hey, kids! Comics!) This is all a little distasteful, needless to say, and this particular book (written by Marjorie Liu, with art by Will Conrad) smacks of an attempt to redeem the character, in every sense of the word. I’m all for that; despite the characters’ obviously cynical origins, she’s potentially very interesting, both alone and in her relationships with the other X-Men, particularly her “dad”. (By the way, at one point Storm tells Wolverine that “he’s the closest thing she has to a father”, which is kind of weird, since, isn’t that pretty much exactly what he is, biologically speaking?)

Unfortunately, most of this first issue is comprised of angst, psychic damage, and apologies. Apparently, even after she ran away and joined the X-Men, who you’d think would know better, Cyclops used her as a covert assassin; while it’s not Liu’s fault that Laura’s saddled with this nonsensical baggage, she has to spend a lot of time walking her back from all this, which means lots of angst, recriminations, and apologies in place of comic book stuff. Yeah, I’m one of those squares who prefers that superhero comics feature the occasional bit of, y’know, action. Now, granted, I fully support the idea of this comic about a teenage girl making an attempt to appeal to actual teenage girls, and right now teenage girls seem to love stories where potentially cool and exciting characters stand around moping about their violent past and not doing anything, but really, Marvel, can’t there be a happy medium?



Tiny Titans #32
by Graig Kent

It’s hard to believe that Tiny Titans has been running for almost three years, now. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago since issue one came out, but it has, and it’s been a staple of my 8-year-old’s reading diet ever since. With 32 issues fluttering about, it’s pretty close to omnipresent around the house, and since I can’t avoid it, I’ve overcome my reluctance and started to read it myself. It’s kiddie material, sure, but it’s rather fantastic kiddie material. Like Spongebob Squarepants or Pixar movies, this is kiddie-stuff you shouldn’t be embarrassed for liking. The books have an ever-expanding roster of characters, with the first page of the comic dedicated to providing a floating head key as to who’s who (it’s up to 28 now). Though sometimes taking its cue from Teen Titans characters and stories past and present, these Tiny Titans stories care not for continuity, instead plunging the wee heroes and villains into a grade-school setting. This issue, Lunch Lady Darkseid (yes, I repeat, Lunch Lady Darkseid) brings Kalibak for his first day of school… naturally chaos ensues. It’s a slight read, but full of bright colors and whimsy, making it perfect for the young reader, but the Eisner Winning Team of Art Baltazar and Franco also seed little bits of humor in for the older reader as well. Franco’s simplistic style has tightened up over the years and now resembles more of a Charles Schulz vibe, and this evolution is slowly, but surely, making this a must read for cartooning aficionados. It’s a surprising little book, quietly becoming a comics institution, accessible to everyone, and enjoyable to all but the coldest of cynics. There’s really only one thing left to say, “Aw yeah, Titans.”



Red: Victoria One-Shot (DC/Wildstorm $3.99)
By Devon Sanders

No less than comics writing superstar and creator of the comics mini-series, Red, upon which the soon-to-be released major motion picture is based, has pointed out one of the main reasons to see this film is a simple one, “Who wouldn’t want to see Oscar winning actress Helen Mirren firing a machine gun?” Hate to say it but it sold me. What can you say? I’m a man a simple man. Wildstorm, the folks who brought you Danger Girl, knows what is good in life and bring you the prequel, Red: Victoria, featuring a young woman, gun in hand and well on her way to becoming the assassin we’ll soon come to know. Set in the waning days of The Cold War, Victoria is the best MI6 has to offer and knows it. When she’s offered vacation, she takes it, not knowing it will lead her to places her killer’s instinct can ill afford. Writer Jon Hoeber writes a simple, well-executed story that does exactly what it should: make you want to go see the movie. Artist David Hahn has beautiful rounded art line reminiscent of original Red artist/creator Cully Hamner, keeping the art properly “in-house.” If Red, as a movie, is as fun as Red: Victoria, I’d say that Warren Ellis was on to something.



Our Fighting Forces featuring The Losers One-Shot (DC, $3.99)
By Adam Prosser

No, not those Losers. This is the other Losers, the original Losers. The more well known comic (and movie) by that name was a modern day remake of an old-school World War II comic created by Bob Kanigher (and which had a memorable run under Jack Kirby); the two different versions don’t have any characters in common, and the setting is obviously different, but both deal with the theme of a group of good soldiers who persevere despite rotten luck and backstabbing superiors. Hence the title…which, I gotta say, is pretty lousy. Which may explain the poor box office performance of the movie, and the fact that this comic bills itself as “Our Fighting Forces”.

A few years ago, DC rattled off a series of one-shots featuring various versions of its old western characters; now they seem to be doing the same with their war titles. It’s easy to be cynical and call this an extended exercise in renewing the copyright on these titles—which it almost certainly is—and yet, in spite of the simplicity of the material, there’s something kind of charming about seeing these genres, which haven’t been popular in the comics world for ages, being treated in such a matter-of-fact manner. Our Fighting Forces is a very straightforward war comic—a mission doomed to fail, a squadron of brave soldiers too tough to go down without a fight, a little potted philosophizing about the nature of war and the context for the current conflict, and stuff exploding. You’d almost think that this title was picking up after a brief hiatus, instead of having been cancelled three decades ago. Writer B. Clay Moore, best known for Hawaiian Dick, sometimes ladles on the self-importance—you can always bet on Native Americans being written heavy-handedly in comics, and the Losers’ Johnny Cloud is no exception—but otherwise this is an admirably brisk little comic, with slick, expressive art (by penciller Chad Hardin and inker Wayne Faucher) that doesn’t feel the need to apologize for being a throwback. It’s never going to make a lot of money in today’s comics marketplace…but hey, lost causes are what The Losers are all about.



Shadowland: Ghost Rider 1-shot (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

If Jason Aaron has established himself as THE Ghost Rider writer for the 21st century, Clayton Crain is fast matching him as the contemporary artist of record for Johnny Blaze. In this latest chapter of Shadowland, Blaze is magically manipulated by The Kingpin into taking on The Snakeroot Clan in their Japanese stronghold. The script by Rob Williams moves briskly through the events, comfortable with the economy allowed in 22 pages. You might argue, in fact, that he tries to do a bit too much– within a couple of pages, Blaze reaches and passes a key turning point that could easily have been a miniseries on its own– but no matter: as a framework for Crain’s art, it’s perfectly serviceable… and the art is so much more than that. The settings range from The Kingpin’s high-rise bastion to a feudal Japanese castle to something resembling heaven, and each page is so rich and vivid that you can practically feel and smell the leather, iron, flame, and blood; take particular note of the detail in the two-page section involving Ghost Rider’s journey across the sea to Japan. Yeah, there’s a few more Photoshop effects than you might prefer, but when Crain brings you an army of ninjas facing a horde of avenging angels, you’ll forgive him the digital tweaks.



Punisher MAX: Hot Rods To Death 1-Shot (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

Charlie Huston is probably the most high-profile of the various crime writers that have made their way to the Marvel Universe over the past few years, and he started off with a bang, with an introductory issue of Moon Knight that was a perfect blend of super-powered heroics and pulpy ruthlessness. Unfortunately, trying to work with the character’s convoluted backstory seemed to get the best of him, and he left after one story arc; in the years since, he’s only turned out a couple of new stories (though his Ultimates 2 Annual was one of the best stories the Ultimate Universe has seen so far). This new comic is very much in the post-Ennis style of Punisher tales: a one-shot story of Frank Castle coming to the aid of an old army buddy to save a small town from predatory bad guys. The script is pretty by-the-numbers, with long stretches of tough-guy taciturnity interspersed with avalanches of expository word balloons; the basic story is nothing you haven’t seen before (Huston even tacitly acknowledges that at the end with his shoutout to films like High Plains Drifter and The Road Warrior

It’s worth your time and coin, though, for the work of artist Sean Martinbrough (probably best known for the Luke Cage Noir mini). When the comics pages are filled with fantasy figures flying through the air and uprooting mountains, it can be hard to work up a lot of excitement where plain old automobiles are concerned, but Martinbrough revels in the vehicular mayhem, not only providing some spectacular splashes, but showing a cinematic precision in his chase sequences, giving the reader a front-row seat for the action. That the guy can do dark is without question (he’s even written a book on noir comic illustration), but it’s nice to see that he can bring the smash, too.

Given the glut of recent Punisher comics, this outing isn’t a particularly memorable chapter in the saga of Frank Castle. However, it is a nice next step on the career path of an up and coming young artist, and I’ll be interested to see him re-team with Huston on this fall’s upcoming Bullseye: The Perfect Game.



Ultimate Avengers 3 #2 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

Since I hate to spoil a comic, I won’t go into a lot of detail here when I tell you that this book represents the perfect Mark Millar balance; that it can delight and madden you at the same time.

On the one hand, there’s a fairly neat premise underlying this whole Ultimate vampire infestation, and one that I’m surprised hasn’t been used more often in stories where it’s nosferatu vs spandex. That’s the good Millar: looking at a comic book idea that we take for granted and finding the unexplored nuances in it.

But then, of course, there’s the “bad” Millar: the one that can’t get over his own cleverness, and this time he has come up with his most teeth-gratingly self-referential pop culture reference ever (and if you’ve been following his career, you know that’s really saying something). It’s a throwaway, and doesn’t derail the story in any functional way, but it pulls you out of it as effectively as if he’d started writing a Millie The Model story in the middle of the book.

Otherwise, it’s an effective bit of buildup to this meeting of Blade and Fury’s kids, as well as setting up a new and dangerous dynamic for Captain America and the “nerd” clone of Bruce Banner. Steve Dillon’s art has always felt a bit static for top-flight superhero storytelling, but at his best (his Ultimate X-Men story from a few years back, or the Nighthawk miniseries), he gets to the underlying unease that ought to pervade any good story about the living dead. If you can get past the sound of Mark Millar giggling like a naughty schoolboy all the way from Scotland, you may find this a rewarding read.




So. Are we sick of this Brightest Day/Blackest Night crap yet?

If you find a character’s story to date tasteless or cynical or otherwise stupid (as I did with X-23), are you capable of putting that aside and treating a new series as if it were a blank slate?

Any old genres of comics you’d like to see DC revive next?



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