Thursday, January 8, 2015

Comics Capsule Reviews

Savage Dragon #200
Savage Dragon #200: I’ve followed Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon from the first miniseries in the ‘90s. That’s two decades and well over 200 issues of the comic, including various spinoffs and miniseries. I love the book, but #200 may be my last issue.

As usual for anniversary books, Larsen celebrates them old school style, a man after my own heart. The 100-page book is packed with stories, art and surprises. And one of those surprises may make this the last issue of the book I purchase. The main story goes down some ... strange avenues. On the trail of the villains who have kidnapped the original Dragon, Malcolm pauses to have sex for the first time with his girlfriend Maxine. When Malcolm’s stepsister Angel drops by unannounced and discovers them, she joins them in a ménage a trois. NOT where I was expecting the book to go. First of all, Malcolm Dragon is still in high school, as is his girlfriend. Is either one underage? I don’t know, but that’s not what I want to read about in a superhero comic. Angel is over 18, but why did she consent to sex with her stepbrother and his girlfriend? That’s icky. And they’re not even from Kentucky. During the act, the girls make fun of Malcolm’s ... manhood and come up with all sorts of pet names for it, including a certain green Avenger from another company. What was Larsen thinking here? Is this what the book is going to be about now? This is inappropriate even for a teen book. I just want a superhero book about a guy with a fin on his head fighting monsters. Is that too much to ask? Is Larsen out of ideas? High? Something went desperately wrong with his judgment here.

The remaining stories spotlight various supporting characters (Mr. Glum, alternate universe Angel—who’s a bigger freak than the regular one) and artists. It’s good to see Herb Trimpe get work, as he does a Dragon in prison story.

Overall this was actually an enjoyable issue, but the three-way thing was a huge mistake. I think Larsen has lost my business after 200 mostly excellent issues.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

John Carter #2
John Carter, Warlord of Mars #2: Just a word about what excellent work writer Ron Marz is doing with this comic. Marz’s favorite Edgar Rice Burroughs creation is John Carter (for me it’s Tarzan, all the way), and writing this book is his life’s dream. Readers can tell. He’s packed the book with action, great characters and a unique villain with a legitimate threat. Abhishek Malsuni’s art is wonderful and complements the writing perfectly. These are some of the best John Carter tales since ERB was writing him, and much better than the recent movie.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Alex + Ada #11
Alex + Ada #11: I just can’t say enough good things about this book. Alex and Ada reflect on the new phase of their relationship, then go to a party where a potential girlfriend of Alex’s strikes out in jealousy at Ada. Things are fine until she calls Ada a “thing.” Then they get heated. The bigger question is, is she a “thing?” Now that her sentience is activated, Ada is thinking, learning, making decisions for herself and falling in love. On top of that, she must hide her sentient intelligence from the world, or she’ll be caught and destroyed. It’s a fine line to walk, and the writers do a fantastic job portraying it. The end is yet another cliffhanger—will Ada really be discovered? As usual, I can’t wait until the next issue.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Wytches #3
Wytches #3: I’m not sure Scott Synder is capable of writing a “normal” comic book, and that’s a good thing. This issue deepens the mystery of what happened to high-schooler Sailor in the woods, as her family desperately searches for her. Regardless, some strange stuff is going on in this town. People are disappearing with no trace, and the police don’t seem too concerned. There are rumors about being “pledged,” where someone pledges a loved one to the Wytches in return for fame, money or power. When you’re pledged, you have no choice but to march into the woods and surrender yourself. So, where is Sailor again?

Everything about Wytches is top notch, including artist Jock’s dark, moody artwork and his flowing, borderless panels. However, there are some digital color effects added over the finished artwork that are unnecessary. They just make the pages look murky and overcrowded. The effects obscure the artwork rather than enhance it. Still, a complex, spooky read that comes highly recommended.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Graveyard Shift #1
Graveyard Shift #1: From writer Jay Faerber (prominently featured on my recent Top 10 Favorite Current Comic Writers list), this is his new vampire/cop team-up book. Liam is a detective who picked the wrong house to raid. Tobias Strickland is a vampire and doesn’t take kindly being the focal point of a violent police invasion. For revenge he tracks down the entire strike team and dispatches them, one by one. Liam is having dinner with his girlfriend Hope when the nasties come calling. When he wakes up in the hospital, he gets some very bad news about Hope. But if she’s gone, who is that standing by her grave, waving and smiling?

Although this book is officially “horror,” Faerber promises a lighter tone than most hardcore horror movies/TV shows. Here he shows a deft hand at dialog and relationships. His characters are believable and relate to each other as adults. Although a miniseries, I hope to see a lot more of Graveyard Shift.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Star Trek/Planet of the Apes #1
Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive #1: Talk about high concept. Why has no one thought of this before? While on an undercover mission, Sulu and Uhura from the Star Trek Universe find out the Klingons have discovered a planet of intelligent apes in an alternate dimension. When the Enterprise goes exploring they find the Klingons are arming the apes and messing with their world’s development. Not to mention that it is an alternate version of Earth. Not content to let those damn, dirty Klingons mess with another primitive society, Kirk and the usual suspects beam down to the planet surface to check things out personally and stop the Klingons if possible.

This book was 22-some odd pages of fun. Klingons, gorillas in armor, Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, this has a full geek dream cast. The cover blurb from next issue has Kirk and company meeting Charlton Heston’s Taylor in front of the Statue of Liberty. Can you imagine the ultimate ham crossover as Heston and Shatner try to out-thespian each other? And I say that as a huge fan of both actors. I can’t wait to see Mr. Spock give General Aldo the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, or Dr. McCoy in a verbal sparring match with Roddy McDowell’s Cornelius. This is one of the more inspired and exciting crossovers of licensed properties. From concept to execution, this one’s a winner!

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Doc Savage Special
Doc Savage Special: Eight bucks was a little steep for one book, but the page count and story more than made up for it. Doc himself is relegated to the background in this one in order to spotlight his sexier cousin, Pat. Truth to tell I’ve had a crush on Pat since I first read her adventures in the late ‘70s, and I do have a soft spot for Pat Savage solo stories. This Special does not disappoint.

When Doc walks into Pat’s business, a hair salon (it was the 1930s, okay?), at first she thinks it’s just a friendly visit. That’s when she notices the tiny Asian girl tagging along with him. Babysitting duty is not to Pat’s liking, but she reluctantly agrees. The girl is a political refugee, and soon her home country is sending thugs, Ninjas and other ne’er do wells to get her back. Pat, no slouch at martial arts, defends the girl through the city, over rooftops and down elevator shafts. She ends up doing a better job than Doc himself, until she finds the girl is not what she seems. A fine tale by David Walker with outstanding art by Kewber Baal. I have to say Dynamite has done an excellent job with the Doc Savage license, and it’s good to read a first-rate Savage story occasionally, especially about Pat. Well done.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

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