Monday, November 16, 2015

Comics Capsule Reviews

Manifest Destiny #18: Nice to see a creator owned book last eighteen excellent issues. I’m not sure a new DC or Marvel book will ever last that many issues again. Readers can also tell Chris Dingess is a writer rather than a comic book writer—that is, Dingess comes from television and has read things other than comics in his life. He knows plot, pacing and character better than anyone writing a mainstream superhero title these days. In this issue, Lewis & Clark, well into their supernatural tour of America, complete their uneasy truce with the tribe of cannibal/bird beings they discovered. They then fulfill their true mission, making the Louisiana Purchase safe for American settlement. They carry out that mission with surprising, but probably necessary, brutality. A riveting book that never fails to entertain or surprise. Matthew Roberts’ art is horrifying and tremendous, as always. Excellent. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #4: While Alan Moore’s Miracleman stories are among the best superhero comics has ever had to offer, when Moore left Neil Gaiman took over the title. Marvel is reprinting those stories, eventually along with some new material. I read these books when they originally came out in the ‘80s and have fond memories of them. Now I’m not sure why. 

Gaiman has a folksy, breezy writing style that runs hot and cold for me. I generally enjoy his work, at least the little to which I have been exposed, but he’s not an absolute favorite. These thirty-year old stories vary from terrible to slightly better than terrible. I appreciate that Gaiman wanted to go in a different direction from Moore, but the direction he chose was directionless. His decision to leave Miracleman out of his Miracleman stories was odd as well. He probably decided, rightly, that no one will do Miracleman better than Alan Moore, so why try? But if that is the case, why bother? It all seems like such a waste of energy and ideas. 

In issue #4, Gaiman revisits Liz Moran, the hapless wife of Miracleman alter ego Mike Moran. Mother of two of Miracleman’s wonder children, Liz is in a new relationship and raising one of her wonder girls and a stepchild. She reads them a fairy tale about her and Miracleman’s first child, Winter, now world famous and revered. This type of storytelling is Gaiman’s security blanket, as he loves writing fairy tales. It’s all so blah ... good but not great. I really wonder why I liked this back in the day. It’s also worth noting that Mark Buckingham’s art style was nowhere near as polished and gleaming as his later work in Fables. Here he is sketchy and his art is not attractive. At $5.00 per issue (for a reprint!), this book is not worth a nostalgic look into the past.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars 

Paper Girls #2: The Paper Girls are Tiffany, K.J., Erin and Mac. They are 12 years old and deliver papers from their bikes for a living. Taking place in the 1980s, one Halloween night they catch some real monsters. But what kind of monsters? Space aliens? Dimensional travelers? And what is with the familiar (to modern readers) logo on one of the monster’s strange electrical devices? With their parents missing and the town being evacuated, the girls better figure out what is going on—quickly. 

New from writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Cliff Chaing, the story puts these young girls through their paces, as they have to deal with angry parents, non-paying subscribers, villainous space-thugs and doomsday devices. Are they up to the task? I’d guess possibly not, but then Erin would hit me in the face with her hockey stick. So I say yes! An enjoyable read with an outside-the-box plot. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Birthright #11: Birthright is probably the best regularly published book on the market right now. Full of action, emotionally conflicted characters and a rollicking good story, I devour every issue cover to cover. 

Brennen is getting used to his younger brother being a now older hero returning from another dimension. He’s even helping Mikey destroy evil sorcerers hiding on Earth. But he is also aware that Mikey is not telling him the whole truth. Trying to explain his time in Terrenos, Mikey tells Brennan the story of the time he violated his trainer’s orders to rescue a young maiden slated for human sacrifice. He succeeded and learned sometimes he has to do as his conscience dictates. He doesn’t explain why he later accepted service with Lore, the evil tyrant he was sent to Terrenos to eradicate. What’s more, Brennen now has his own spirit guide from Terrenos to help him figure out if Mikey is good or evil ... and if evil, how to save his soul. A top-notch fantasy, full of twists and turns that never let up. Highest recommendation. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

The Twilight Children #1 & 2: I haven’t had much exposure to writer Gilbert Hernandez’s magnum opus, Love & Rockets. But artist Darwyn Cooke is an absolute master of the comics medium. Here they team for a new story involving a small, beachside community and some odd supernatural events. The characters are intriguing; a cheating wife, her husband, her lover, a beach bum who lost his family in a fire many years before, and three children who are friends. When large opaque orbs are seen floating on the ocean and eventually float into town, the curious villagers try to capture them. Refusing to be corralled, the orbs end up floating through homes and business in this sleepy town. A young scientist arrives to study the orbs. When the kids find an orb in a cave, they reach out to touch it. That’s when the orb explodes, taking their eyesight but leaving them otherwise unharmed. Then a strange woman with white hair appears on the beach. Is she connected to the orbs? 

In issue #2, the orbs demonstrate even wackier behavior, whisking away some citizens who get too close. Some reappear naked in trees, others don’t return at all. Meanwhile, the silent, white-haired stranger makes friends with the village folks. But what is she hiding? 

Hernandez and Cooke have crafted a seriously deranged sci-fi fantasy mystery that commands the reader’s attention. Cooke’s art is wonderful. A brilliant story I can’t wait to see unfold. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

Judge Dredd Classics: The Dark Judges: This hardcover graphic novel reprints two of the most famous Judge Dredd stories; Dredd and Psi Judge Anderson against the Dark Judges. Judge Dredd of course is from Britain’s weekly 2000 A.D. anthology comic. Set in a fascistic future, judges have the right to be judge, jury and executioner to a crime-ridden populace. 

The Dark Judges come from an alternate dimension. They are Judge Mortis, Judge Fire, Judge Fear and finally their leader, Judge Death. In their dimension, they have decided that all crime is committed by the living, so living itself becomes a crime. When they have dispatched all living things on their world, they find a way to Earth to finish their grisly work. Enter Judge Dredd, who finally finds harsher judges than himself. Beautiful and tough Judge Anderson, a mind reader from the Judge Psi Corps, steps in to help him. The art for the first storyline is by Brian Bolland, and the characters have never looked better. Despite causing major destruction, Dredd and Anderson finally manage to put the Dark Judges back in their bottle. This story also contains one of my favorite single comics panels of all time, as Judge Fear proclaims to Dredd: 

“Gaze into the face of Fear!” As Dredd puts his fist through Fear’s head, he proclaims, “Gaze into the fist of Dredd!” Inspired stuff! 

The second story is from Judge Anderson’s solo title. Dredd is involved, but she is the star. The Dark Judges, their bodies destroyed but their spirits clinging to life, manage to trick Anderson into coming to their dimension and freeing them. They end up causing twice the destruction to Mega-City One they did the first time around, and Judge Anderson is now under investigation and suspension for freeing them. Will she be able to fight the Dark Judges under house arrest? Let’s just say if you don't think so, you don’t know Judge Anderson. A nice hardcover package of two of the best Judge Dredd stories. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

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