Monday, March 17, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

Afterlife with Archie #4
3/5/14 Books
- Afterlife with Archie #4: A comic that has no right being this good. An Archie zombie comic? Yet it works. Author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa plays it straight, with a spell cast by Sabrina the Teenaged Witch gone wrong and starting a zombie apocalypse in Riverdale. Jughead is one of the first infected (he's always been a proud carnivore, right?), and the virus quickly overtakes the town. Meanwhile Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang take refuge in the Lodge mansion as Mr. Lodge organizes a commando team from what is left of the town’s adults.

In issue #4, Archie’s old jalopy is unveiled as a getaway car, and the fate of Archie’s parents is revealed (slight spoiler—Mr. Andrews has become a bit “bity”). Played as a straight horror book with moody art by the multi-talented Francesco Francavilla, the Archie gang fighting zombies actually ... works.

Velvet #4
- Velvet #4: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, except for a rather ignorant anti-Tea Party storyline, set the standard for modern superhero comics. The man started out good and has become a master storyteller. Velvet is a period piece, taking place in 1973. The premise is “What if Moneypenny from the James Bond films was herself a master spy?” When her boss turns up dead, Velvet is framed for the murder. Jumping out a nearby window, she goes on the run to find the real killer. What follows is a bullet-riddled, glass smashing, bone crunching good time.

In this issue, Velvet infiltrates a costume ball to obtain intelligence from a spy who once worked with her murdered boss. I’m not much of a fashionista ... okay, I’m not in any way anything resembling a fashionista, but I have to say artist Steve Epting draws some of the most beautiful gowns and costumes to appear in a comic. Both creators are doing some of the best work of their careers and it shows in every page. Velvet is a satisfying throwback to ‘60s spy thrillers.

3/12/14 Books
Manifest Destiny #5
- Manifest Destiny #5: A quiet travelogue of a book, chronicling Lewis & Clark’s sojourn across the American wilderness. With one slight twist—the American heartland is chock full of monsters, man-buffaloes, vampires, plant people and things they haven’t catalogued yet. Oh, and Sacajawea is a tough, monster fighting Indian woman, who doesn’t say much but regularly saves their fat from the fire. The stakes get higher every issue, with the explorers getting farther from civilization and the threats getting darker and more dangerous. Their uninformed crew threatens mutiny and their numbers decrease every issue. An intense, fun and well-executed “What If” horror story.

Red Team #7
- Red Team #7: Writer Garth Ennis wraps up his vigilante cops story. A strike team of NY police decide to take the law into their own hands and execute crime lords the law can’t touch. They are incredibly smart about it ... not leaving a trail, not just taking out criminals they are investigating, choosing different times and places, avoiding patterns, making each hit different. When they run into a rival police team doing the same thing for drugs and money, the teams clash and not everyone makes it out alive. Ennis tends to get into his characters’ heads and have them wrestle with the morality of their actions, and it is an honest struggle for some members of the team. The “good” strike team is caught and arrested, but their eventual fate is this issue will surprise you.
Stray Bullets #41
- Stray Bullets #41: After an eight-year hiatus, the hardest crime book on the market is back. Not missing a beat, Stray Bullets returns to finish a storyline eight years in the making. Student Virginia Applejack is trying to save her kidnapped friend Leon from upperclassman thug Mike. Mike thinks he’s a tough guy, but is ignorant of Virginia’s background or what she will do to help Leon. There is a brutal final showdown with Virginia, Mike and a crowd of criminals and kids.

Stray Bullet’s black and white printing and stark artwork underscore the hardness of this modern comic noir. Dark and unflinchingly brutal with an honesty few other books achieve, SB still tends to amaze.

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