Comics Reviewed! Thor, Wolverine, Deadpool and more!

Before we begin this week’s column, just wanted to give a quick tip of the hat to Worlds Collide Comics (Oshawa, Ontario) and Comic Book Addiction (Whitby, Ontario) for helping me write this column with free sample copies and moral support. A couple of very cool stores that definitely deserve your patronage, if you’re in the area–friendly, professional and well-run. (And while we’re on the subject, we’d love to hear more about your local comics stores, in case we ever do a whirlwind tour of North American comics hotspots. Post away in the comments section!)


Freedom Fighters #1 (DC, $2.99)
by Graig Kent

Four years ago Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray shepherded in a new era of the less-than-iconic Golden Age heroes Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, fertilizing a seed Grant Morrison planted and crafting a hyper-political parable in the guise of a superhero story. They followed it up a year and a half later with a modified team, a challenging story structure, and a less fluid tale of political division. Two years later, we have this new series, which (and I’m saying this as a fan of the previous books) I’m sure very few were clamoring for, and it’s a fine example of diminishing returns. The political bent is reduced to the Native American hero, Black Condor, squaring off against white supremacist super-villains, and is as cliche and patronizing as it sounds. The first 2/3s of the book are utterly disposable, trite introductions to the heroes and their capabilities (but not so much their characters) as they tackle a pair of monumental challenges with relative ease, while the final act of the book assembles the team on a National Treasure-like mission. It *could* all be quite fun, but it’s not. It’s meandering, boring and uninspired, with little of the spirit or fist-on-table conviction of its predecessors. Travis Moore and Trevor Scott’s art is appealing with a great sense of the dynamic, but it’s confined, and unable to breathe as Palmiotti and Gray bog down the book with too many unrefined ideas, not enough direction and nothing clever to say. Rather than an unfocused ongoing series (which will last, likely, only 10 issues anyway if DC’s track record of obscure character-led series is any judge), Freedom Fighters should instead be a third, purposeful mini-series with a clear path and endgame in mind.



Thor: For Asgard #1 (Marvel Comics, $3.99)
By Devon Sanders

Since writer Warren Ellis’ mid-90’s run on Thor, Marvel Comics has been trying to find a perfect balance between modern comics’ decompressionist sensibilities and the pseudo-Shakespearean epics brought to us by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. More succeeded than failed and in 2004 one soared, perfectly capturing the essence of the awe inspired when gods clash. It wasn’t a Thor comic per se’ but what it was a damned good comic where Thor’s half-brother, Loki conquered the whole of Asgard. The ultimate Loki story, Loki, having defeated all that stood in his way, alas, could not get out of the way of the one person capable stopping him: himself. Written by Robert Rodi, it’s a story six years on I still hold up as one of the best comics produced in the last 20 years. This week finds Rodi returning to Norse gods with Thor: For Asgard #1 and the results look to be as equally intriguing. Odin has left the throne of Asgard to his son, Thor. The Odinson and his subjects have been waging a war for two years in his stead with many questioning the necessity of their actions. Elsewhere, within a chamber accessible only to one a secret shame sits in quiet, one, if let out, could destroy the mythology surrounding the current king and those who stand beside him. Rodi, once again shows a pitch-perfect understanding of who and what these characters should be. They are epic and epically flawed and in the presence of gods, when they go awry, they should do so accordingly and Rodi understands this. Artist Simone Bianchi turns in a spectacular job, brilliantly depicting the grandiosity of Asgard and hits people. Thor: For Asgard #1 is beautifully tragic, in short, the best of mythology.



One Month To Live #1 (of 5) (Marvel, $2.99)
By Adam Prosser

Comics aren’t exactly renowned for their delicate handling of real-world issues, which is why Rick Remender deserves points for making the first issue of One Month To Live a story about terminal cancer that doesn’t illicit groans. More importantly, it tells a story about the people who get screwed over by the system—and the people who are unwitting accomplices to that system—in a down-to-Earth, plausible way. You could quibble that it doesn’t really have much new to say about this stuff, at least not in the first issue, but well-conceived moral dilemmas are rare enough in superhero comics; I’ll take them as they come.

The title character, Jeffrey Sykes, is the kind of decent-minded guy who we all imagine that we are…and he’s also a cog in a machine that ruins lives, just as we’re mostly forced to be at some point. When Jeffrey breaks from his usual moral compromising to attempt an act of heroism, he’s rewarded with a bizarre, mutant strain of cancer that will kill him in a month—but also grants him superpowers. In classic Marvel fashion, Jeffrey grapples internally with his situation before deciding to take his act on the road and make a difference—with his looming deadline lending a special urgency to the proceedings.

I think my favorite superhero books are these kinds, the ones that use the entire, surreal backdrop of a comics universe to tell a personal story. Astro City, of course, is the gold standard for this, but there’s something particularly engaging about using the familiar Marvel universe in this way. The miniseries will be tackled by a series of writers (Remender scripted the first and last issues only) and artists, with this first issue drawn by Andrea Mutti, whose faces are unfortunately stiff and inexpressive. But that’s the only real flaw in this otherwise stellar first issue, which is basically Akira Kurosawa’s Ikuru guest-starring Spider-man and the Fantastic Four. Not the kind of thing you see every day, huh?



Wolverine #1 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Adam Prosser

It wouldn’t be accurate to say I have anything against the X-Men, per se. I mean, they can be really well done. I like the movies. The metaphor at the center of their stories remains powerful no matter how ham-fistedly the writers sometimes drive it home. I don’t even have a problem with Wolverine, no matter how unbelievably overexposed he tends to be. It’s just that, in a medium and genre that tends to feature mind-bogglingly, intimidatingly complex continuity, the X-Book’s are the worst, and that’s generally kept me from picking up the comics. The X-Men feel…burnt out in a way that other superheroes don’t, and Wolverine is probably the most burnt-out of the bunch.

Still, I’ve heard nothing but praise for Jason Aaron’s run on Weapon X, and Wolverine’s status as poster boy for ubiquity has been usurped by Deadpool of late, so the time felt right to pick up a Wolverine book. The plot’s pretty straightforward: someone’s picking off Wolverine’s friends and colleagues, and that someone seems to be…Wolverine. Except it can’t be, because Wolverine is actually in hell, being tormented by the devil. (And this being an X-book, I doubt that’s some kind of artsy metaphor.) The action is well-paced, the dialogue is decent, and the mystery does an adequate job of making me want to read on. But I’m not really understanding, on the basis of this one issue, why Aaron is so beloved, and to a large degree this feels like something you’ll be more interested in if you already have some investment in the characters. Which a lot of people do, obviously, so I don’t mean that as a huge criticism. Still…it’d be nice if this #1 issue about a character I haven’t read much of before felt fresher, you know?



Shadowland: Moon Knight #1 of 3 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

So there’s this Shadowland thing going on, and Daredevil is at the center of it: a dark, brooding character often confused about the nature of heroism, even of his own identity, whose brutal methods of dealing with crime are mirrored in the danger visited upon the people he loves.

Now, given that, what’s the one thing this series needs? I got it—how about another dark, brooding character often confused about the nature of heroism, even of his own identity, whose brutal methods of dealing with crime are mirrored in the danger visited upon the people he loves.

Thus, enter Moon Knight. And what’s the one thing we know about Moon Knight? That the guy just doesn’t have enough secret identities yet. So, naturally, Marvel has seen fit to kit him out with yet another one: some guy named Jake. I think that makes four, but I stopped keeping track a while ago.

Honestly, Moon Knight has his uses (contrary to popular belief, he’s not Marvel’s answer to Batman—that was what The Shroud was originally intended to be—he’s more like The Shadow), but if you’re going to insert him into a crossover event, the last thing you want to do is start trying to fit the puzzle pieces into the jigsaw of his checkered career—much less bringing new characters onboard. Because when you do that, suddenly every character has to be introducing readers to his impossibly convoluted backstory, and spouting exposition to the point where it feels like half of each panel is taken up with word balloons. And it’s not just sloppy writing: Gregg Hurwitz’ work on books like The Punisher shows that he can work economically; it’s just that if you’re going to use Moon Knight as a drop-in character, leave all his baggage behind: Just turn the guy loose to mess people up.

Fortunately, that’s basically what artist Bong Dazo (never gets old, does it?) does here: handling an assortment of different perspectives (including flashback scenes to the childhood and army days of Moon Knight’s latest antagonist), he simply refuses to let the prolixity get in his way, and the action is tough and brutal, with at least one particularly disturbing assault among the myriad of mayhem.

While this series feels pretty peripheral to the whole Shadowland thing, that’s something I like in Marvel’s approach: if Moon Knight’s your guy, you can skip pretty much everything else that ol’ Hornhead and his Band of Hand are up to in the other books, and just wallow in four issues of white-cloaked mayhem.



Deadpool: Pulp #1 of 4 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.

Since the most disappointing aspect of the recent Deadpool 1000 anthology was David Lapham’s takeoff on The Maltese Falcon, it was reasonable to fear that this latest attempt to stick Wade Wilson into a pulp fiction world he never made would fare no better—after all, Lapham’s not exactly an amateur at crime writing. But writers Mike Benson and Adam Glass take a leap past the era of their collaboration on Luke Cage Noir, into the post-WW2 era, and have constructed a canny piece of historical fiction, with Wade Wilson a damaged survivor of imprisonment and torture in a Japanese POW camp. He’s recruited by the nascent CIA and sent on a mission to retrieve an agent who’s gone off the reservation… and who just might be Wade’s ex-lover (what are the odds?). Along the way, he interacts with famous figures of the 50’s (I won’t spoil the spot-the-celeb game for you), and we see the beginnings of Benson and Glass holding up a dark mirror to the era of Truman and Ike, reflecting a time more troubled and discordant than is often portrayed. In fact, despite the title, this pulp adventure is shaping up to be even darker than much of the Noir line was, Deadpool’s wisecracks notwithstanding.

Like the Noir series, familiar spandex characters also turn up in other guises (Cable as an FBI agent is awfully on-the-nose compared to the interesting juxtapositions that were common in the Noir line), though at this point, they don’t make the same effective use of the relationships that the characters had with one another in the regular Marvel U. Wade’s dual caption boxes are put to good use, and Benson and Glass do a pretty good job with the pop-culture references that are significantly older than they are.

Still, this would be just one more passable “What If?” adventure, starring a character who’s consuming more than his fair share of paper pulp (see what I did there?) these days, if not for the art of Laurence Campbell, who grounds the flights of fantasy in artwork that gives us a 1950’s that contrasts sharply with Donna Reed or the Nelson family: that bright postwar “future” is overlaid with a patina of fear and paranoia.


This week’s Talking Points:

Marvel’s launching a line of “Wolverine Family” books (about Daken, X-23, etc.–like the modern equivalent of the Captain Marvel Family). Good idea, or doomed to fail?

Do you like the idea of using famous Marvel/DC superheroes as supporting players in a story about a new character?

No, seriously: tell us about your local comics stores! I know that some stores provide great experiences, opportunities to chat with your fellow geeks, great recommendations, cool events and even chances to meet prominent comics writers and artists at signings and so on…and some stores are infuriating little ratholes run by people with no social skills and a clubhouse mentality. Let us know: what stores are great? Which ones should be avoided at all costs?


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