Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Comics Capsule Reviews

Alex + Ada #15
Alex + Ada #15: The loss of such a great comic will be a hard one to bear. After tracking the human experience, with all of its triumphs and tragedies, through the eyes of a sentient machine, the ride has finished. This final issue is a true departure, taking place over several decades. The situation is as dire as we thought—the authorities have seized Ada, and she is probably in pieces in a warehouse somewhere. Or worse. Alex has been sentenced to a long prison stay as an example to anyone else who wants to give their robot helper sentience. But as the years roll by, society begins to challenge assumptions regarding robot rights. Alex is released to a completely new world, a world much friendlier to his point of view. And that’s not the only surprise waiting for him. 

Comics don’t get better than Alex + Ada. Intelligent, challenging and engaging, this is everything science fiction, and comics, should be. Show this one to a civilian who hates comic books. Bravo. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Archie vs. Predator #3
Archie vs. Predator #3: I have a high quotient for what is inappropriate in decent society, and I’m nigh unoffendable. But something about this comic just isn’t right. Writer Alex de Campi and artist Fernando Ruiz deliver a crossover between the Riverdale gang and the violent alien hunters known as Predators. The art is classic, cartoony Archie, which is disturbing enough, but the action is not. The Predator is right out of the films; ripping spines out of Riverdale regulars and leaving trails of blood through Pop’s Diner. Jughead’s severed head crammed inside a broken vending machine (at least he died doing what he loved) elevates AvP to theatre of the absurd. As the bodies are piled up and dismembered, Archie, Betty and Veronica mount one final Hail Mary effort to destroy the alien who has killed most of their friends. This book is weird. 

Rating: *** out of 5 stars 

The Fade Out #7
The Fade Out #7: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s latest masterpiece is a visual treat as well as a noir-laden trip through the movie business of the 1940s. The book started out slow, but the creative team, as well as the story itself, is now running on all cylinders. Screenwriter Charlie Parish, suffering from intense writer’s block, and up and coming actress Maya Silver, finally give in to their suppressed feelings and spend the weekend together. When Maya is called back to her movie set early, she and Charlie go right back to the dirt, grit and lies of Hollywood. Charlie is tempted to just take off, but he’s still working on what happened to Valeria Sommers, the murdered actress Maya replaced. And he’s hoping no one notices that his current script is ghostwritten by the drunk (and blacklisted) Lincoln Kessler. 

Dirty, sexy and full of bad people doing bad things, The Fade Out is another stunning success from the Brubaker/Phillips team. Brilliant. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

The Shadow #100
The Shadow #100: Dynamite is the perfect company to publish the Shadow. I suppose all the Shadow comics they have published add up to one hundred, ‘cause this is the Centennial issue. Says so on the cover. The book contains five excellent and pulpy Shadow stories. The best two are “The Laughing Corpse” by Victor Gishler and Stephen B. Scott, about the Shadow’s vengeance on a murderer, and “The Curse of Blackbeard’s Skull,” a prose piece written and with spot illustrations by Matt Wagner. The latter story is about secret college societies, a mystic skull, and murder. All stories portray the Shadow as the force for justice and vengeance that he is. A fitting package for a rare comics milestone. Don’t forget, the Shadow knows

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

We Stand on Guard #1
We Stand on Guard #1: I’m afraid I have to reject the premise of We Stand on Guard. In the near future, the United States declares war on Canada. And not just a cold war, or dropping a few bombs onto the vast wilderness. In this comic, the U.S. gleefully destroys major Canadian cities and revels in the civilian causalities. We send automated robots into the wild to kill insurgents—the ones we capture are sent to work camps. We put boots on the ground, destroy their air force and put our staunchest ally under martial law. Why? The book doesn’t make that clear yet, although one insurgent claims we wanted their water (it is in the future). If so, why wouldn’t we just ask? Canadians are so polite, after all. 

This book is a Liberal’s dream, and I suspect many Liberals wouldn’t question that America is capable of such actions. But is writer Brian K. Vaughn saying it? Vaughn is a Liberal, that was plain in his masterwork Y the Last Man. I’m not saying he believes America is capable of the actions laid out in WSOG. But the U.S. is portrayed as a violent, bloodthirsty nation who murders civilians in a surprise attack on an ally. Then we occupy that ally with major military force to subjugate, not liberate. Brian, our enemies do that, not us. 

The book is beautifully realized. Vaughn creates real and vibrant characters, and artist Steve Skroce continues to be a talented illustrator. But this entire concept will have to tread very carefully with me. I’ll give this concept some rope, but if I sense the strong whiff of actual America hatred put off by outlets like MSNBC, The New York Times and Ariana Grande, then I’m out. No one needs that kind of odium in their life. 

Rating: No rating yet, I’ll see where it goes. 

The Spirit #1
The Spirit #1: Most folks who know anything about comics are at least passingly familiar with Will Eisner’s creation The Spirit. Debuting in 1940, The Spirit was a comic book enclosed in newspapers, and for twelve years was superb and seminal sequential storytelling. Fresh takes have been attempted by new creators several times in the last few decades. Some of them have been fun pastiches, but no one has really captured Eisner’s original zeitgeist. If anyone has a chance to do so, it could be writer Matt Wagner. 

The Spirit is square-jawed do-gooder Denny Colt. When Colt is mistakenly declared dead, he decides to stay dead and fight crime as the masked hero the Spirit. In Wagner’s new take, the Spirit, and Denny, have been missing for two years. Crime is running rampant and Commissioner Dolan is trying to keep things under control. The Spirit’s girlfriend, Dolan’s daughter Ellen, has moved on to a new life and new boyfriend. And classic supporting character Ebony White, the Spirit’s assistant, is reimagined as a young P.I. in a much more politically correct version. There is a lot to like here, and Wagner puts his own twists on the characters and their world. Add the missing Spirit mystery and there is plenty of reason to come back for the next issue. It looks like Wagner will be inspired by, but not enslaved to, Eisner’s original vision.

Rating: ***½ stars out of 5 

Coffin Hill #20
Coffin Hill #20: The final issue that wraps up a riveting 20-part epic. This is yet another comic ending prematurely that will be much missed. Emma Coffin, the witch of Coffin Hill, has finally escaped her ghostly prison. Her descendant Eve Coffin is the only being standing between her and the total destruction of the town. Emma celebrates her liberation with some petty revenge, then faces Eve for a final showdown, daring Eve to try and stop her. A bloody and defeated Eve lies helpless on the black and white tiled floor of the Coffin mansion. But Eve may have one more trick up her sleeve ... Either way, a witch is going to burn tonight. 

It is sad such a quality book as this is going away. Writer Caitlin Kittredge has shown she has monstrous talent, as has artist Inaki Miranda. These two creators have proven they are incredibly gifted storytellers. I’ll be watching where they go from here. 

Rating: ***** stars out of 5

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