Monday, February 9, 2015

Comics Capsule Reviews

Star Trek/Planet of the Apes #2
Star Trek/Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive #2: Captain Kirk and crew continue their investigation of the Ape planet and end up meeting Charlton Heston’s Taylor! The Enterprise team realizes this planet is an alternate Earth as they meet the legendary George Taylor. Taylor, relieved to see other advanced humans, assumes they have arrived to help him overthrow the ape government. Kirk resists, but is introduced to Chimpanzee Doctors Cornelius and Zira and given a crash course in the stratifications of Ape society. Of course Kirk refuses military assistance because of the Prime Directive not to interfere in other cultures, leading Taylor to take matters into his own hands. 

This series is a total blast, successfully combining two sci-fi franchises and two hammy lead actors. Highly recommended! 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Alex + Ada #12
Alex + Ada #12: Alex’s friend Jacob arrives unexpectedly at the house, convinced robot Ada has achieved sentience. She has. But proving it is another thing. Baiting and pushing her, Jacob provokes action—violent action—from Ada. Can she control herself before she kills him, as she easily could? And she now has to consider that if someone hostile to her knows of her self-awareness—both she and Alex could be in immense danger. Meanwhile, Alex is dealing with his ailing grandmother, who is sicker than he thought. How much loss can he deal with at one time? It gets worse when he returns home and surveys the damage ....  

Full of mad ideas and intense thrills, Alex + Ada is one of the best books on the stands today. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Winterworld #7
Winterworld #7: Tough guy Scully and his fourteen year-old ward Wynn continue their trek through the frozen wastes of the north. Only now they have a passenger, the thief Trina. Wynn takes an immediate dislike to her, jealous of her “adult” relationship with Scully. The three are being followed by a group of rapscallions Scully ticked off years ago, and the bad guys finally catch up. In this world, that’s really holding a grudge. It will take trust and teamwork for Scully, Wynn and Trina to work together to resist this group of armed strangers. In the end, Wynn and Trina may not actually like each other, but they certainly get along better. I guess barely escaping certain death will do that to you. 

Ace adventure writer Chuck Dixon turns in another action-packed script that moves the story forward. The art is by Tomas Giorello and he’s terrific. A worthy successor to Jackson Guice’s outstanding work. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Star Wars #1
Star Wars #1&2: After decades of fine Star Wars stories, the license for Star Wars comics is reverting from Dark Horse Comics back to Marvel. On the face of it this is cause for regret—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! But life moves on. Judging from this first issue, Marvel Star Wars comics may actually be ... good? 

I’ve enjoyed writer Jason Aaron’s work in the past, and artist John Cassaday is one of the best comics has to offer. Unfortunately, putting Cassaday on the book guarantees we won’t see another issue for at least six months, and then he’ll leave the book. 

The stories in this “main” SW title take place shortly after the first SW movie and long before The Empire Strikes Back. Princess Leia leads a covert team (including Luke, Han and Chewy) to a planet that contains the Empire’s largest weapons factory. They slide in smoothly undercover, but are soon discovered by a recently arrived Darth Vader and his Stormtrooper goons.
Star Wars #2
Then things start to explode. There is a lot to like in these first two issues; the banter between Han and Leia (and Chewy), C-3PO’s defense of the empty Millennium Falcon, and Luke’s novice use of the force. In Issue 2, Luke has his first face-to-face confrontation with Vader, who makes short work of him and confiscates his lightsaber. Fortunately, Vader is interrupted before he can kill him. Many explosions later, Luke has his saber back and Vader is left with a familiar and disturbing feeling about this young Jedi. 

These issues are delightful and give me hope Marvel may be interested in quality Star Wars comics and not just hacking out refuse to Marvel Zombies with full wallets. I look forward to their Darth Vader and Princess Leia books—I’ll definitely give them a try. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Justice Inc. #6
Justice Inc. #6: I’m a sucker for pulp heroes, and to me anything featuring a crossover between Doc Savage, the Shadow and the Avenger is like catnip to Simba the lion. That said, the execution of this story leaves a lot to be desired. Writer Michael Uslan may be a great Hollywood lawyer and producer, but no one will mistake him for a writer. His handling of Doc Savage as a petulant whiner is a bit out of character. He fails to make the Avenger an interesting or sympathetic character, even with the story of his creation and the tragic death of his wife and child. Uslan has a good sense of history and a decent grasp on the Shadow, he just has more enthusiasm than talent as a writer. The art is terrible. I stuck with all six issues because I love the characters (and those Alex Ross covers), but never again. This is not worth the money. 

Rating: **½ out of 5 stars 

Lady Killer #2
Lady Killer #2: Equal parts style and cheek, Lady Killer navigates readers through the world of a 1960s killer for hire—who just happens to be a suburban housewife and mother of two adorable tykes. Issue two takes us into the Playboy Club, as Josie goes undercover as a harried lunch lady. Kidding! Of course she’s a hot bunny, complete with ears and a tail. She lures her target into the cloak room and plays a bit of cat-and-mouse until she fulfills her contract. Pressured by her boss to take another job quickly, even she is shocked when she discovers the new target. 

Lady Killer is audacious and violent with a solid helping of ironic, tongue-in-cheek humor. The only negative is the similarity with another “suburban mom as killer” book, Jennifer Blood (although the protagonist in that book killed for revenge, not cash). Hopefully the story will distance itself as the series progresses. The art by Joelle Jones is breathtaking and alone worth the cover charge. 

Rating: ***½ stars out of 5 

Birthright #5
Birthright: #5: I love love LOVE Birthright and it just keeps getting better. Mikey is a hero kidnapped as a child and taken to a fantasy world to fight evil. Grown up, he’s back on Earth now, trying to reconnect with his family. It seems that Mikey wasn’t necessarily with the winning side in that world—and not necessarily one of the good guys either. 

Mike has dragged his father and brother into the woods to fight who he tells them is an evil sorcerer. Trouble is, while Mikey may be able to hold his own, evil sorcerers are a bit out of the league of a sixteen year-old and a soccer dad. No matter, Mikey has the matter—and his broadsword—well in hand. The question is, is this sorcerer the evil despot Mikey says? Or will his untimely death start Earth down the path to being overrun with monsters and demons?  

The flashback scenes follow a young Mikey as he first arrives on the fantasy world, meets his allies and learns to battle malevolent monsters. He seems like a nice enough kid, and even at this age shows grit. What went wrong? The ending is a huge cliffhanger that takes the story in a different direction and definitely leaves the reader wanting answers. Great stuff.  

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

The United States of Murder Inc. #6
The United States of Murder, Inc. #6: Oh Brian Michael Bendis, what are we going to do with you? The story in this issue is perfectly serviceable and contains a major decision from one of the main characters. The theme of the book is that the mob controls most of the east coast of the U.S., Congress runs the rest of the country and they have an uneasy alliance between them. Overall it’s a decent read. But Bendis, Bendis, your lazy habits are excruciating! First of all, a typical word balloon in a comic contains around 18-24 words. A typical word balloon in this comic contains the “F” word about 40 times. Bendis, even if characters talk like that, don’t you think it comes off as lazy and repetitive to your readers? How does this enhance the story experience of this comic? Your characters cuss a lot. We get it. Secondly, the stutters. Bendis must have grown up in a house, neighborhood, school, county and city where everyone started every sentence with a stutter. Every Bendis character in every Bendis book stutters! It’s lazy writing, Brian! Pick one stuttering character and Mel Tillis away, but does everyone have to stutter on every sentence? Here are just a few from this issue: “Just—just why?” “Of—of course I want them back.” It—it would be my honor.” “This—this isn’t the end of this.” Which leads me to another annoying habit. Brian Michael Bendis should not be allowed to ever use the word “this” in his writing. Ever. Take that last sentence (“This—this isn’t the end of this”). He manages a stutter and to use the word “this” three times in one sentence! Other egregious examples from this issue: “... if this happens and no one stops it ... “ “This is something that needs to be done.” “I’m not doing this with you.” “I can’t believe this.” “I can’t believe this (again).” “I can tell you this.” “This is not a drill!” “You brought this in my house!” “Everybody stop and look at this.” “All this s***.” “You have proof of this?” “You have proof of this? (again)” “This is something special.” “Not for them this f***** plan ... “ “You have made insane sacrifices to put this world back together ...” And of course, the above mentioned “This—this isn’t the end of this,” Bendis’s crowning “this” achievement. Yes, “this” can be used as an adjective, pronoun, adverb or definite article. But not all at once in the same sentence! FIND ANOTHER WORD. None of these habits are limited to this comic. This is all of Bendis’s work. Yes, I said “this.” 

Unfortunately, there are other problems with the book. The printing is murky and the coloring and palette are downright ugly. In the first few pages, humans are colored green and the backgrounds are pink and red. Why? The art is crowded and the storytelling is confusing. I’m not a huge fan of artist Michael Avon Oeming’s work anyway, but this particular issue was not drawn well. During one action sequence where the bad guys were trying to extract information from someone, I just couldn’t tell what was happening. This one was not good, guys. I hope next month’s (or year’s) issue is better.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars 

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