Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Comic Book Update - January 2014

With a new year comes some evaluation of the comic books I buy on a monthly basis. I mentioned in my Phantom Manifesto that I needed to drop five books, so I am going to do that today.
If you’re new here, this is a post where I provide a little commentary about the quality of the comics I read. I don’t do in-depth reviews or plot synopses or anything like that (mostly). I’ll just talk about how much I enjoy books (or don’t) and whether I think you should buy them.
Each title will get summed up with a comment – Keeper, Dropped It, Top of the Stack, Probation, or various other things I might come up with. “Top of the Stack” means that the book is one of the few that I separate out of my pull each week to read first. The books that excite me so much I have to read them ASAP. In other words, the only books I should really be spending my money on.
A+X
I keep waiting for the quality to drop on this book and it hasn’t yet. I was concerned when I saw that they were doing a multi-issue story with… wait.
If you don’t know, A+X is a monthly book that features two creative teams telling two one-shot stories that involve at least one Avenger and one X-Person. It’s a lot of fun and doesn’t require any knowledge of current events in the Marvel Universe.
Okay, each issue thus far has had two chunks of easily digestible fun. So I was worried when I saw that the current Cyclops and Captain America story was going to last multiple issues. But so far it’s been great and I’m okay with it. As long as this doesn’t become a regular thing or one concept doesn’t end up dominating the book, I’m good.
Verdict – SUPER FUN BOOK
ALL-STAR WESTERN
Still the best from DC and one of the best overall. Jonah Hex is currently stranded in his future (the DCU’s present) and has picked up a hot lady to accompany him on his adventures. In recent issues Hex has encountered Bruce Wayne, John Constantine, and Swamp Thing. It’s been awesome. You should be reading this book, regardless of how you feel about Westerns.
Oh, and apparently regular series artist Moritat finally needed a breather, because the most recent issue featured a fill-in artist for the first half. That artist’s style didn’t mesh with Moritat’s at all, but that portion of the story did at least take place in a different time. And the artist was good, they just weren’t Moritat.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
ASH VS THE ARMY OF DARKNESS
The art in this book is weird and fantastic. The story is interesting and picks up right where the regular version of Army of Darkness left off. But I’m not digging the tone. It’s a little too serious. Ash gets off some one-liners, but they almost feel obligatory rather than a natural part of his character. I want very much to like this book, as it’s AoD and it’s by one of the best writers working today – Steve Niles – but I’m not totally digging it.
Verdict – PROBATION
BATMAN
Okay, it’s time to be completely honest – I cannot remember for the life of me what is going on in this book right now. I know it’s still Zero Year and I know it’s still about Bruce Wayne with a terrible haircut, but I can’t recall the plot. And that’s probably not a good sign.
Verdict – IS THIS BOOK TREADING WATER OR AM I JUST GETTING DUMBER?
BATMAN AND______
I am thoroughly enjoying the Batman and Two-Face story. I haven’t decided yet how I feel about the change in Two-Face’s origin. It isn’t a huge difference, but I don’t know that it works as smoothly. Or maybe it makes more sense. I just can’t decide. Either way, this book is solid and Patrick Gleason’s art seems to keep getting cooler.
Verdict - KEEPER
BATMAN SUPERMAN
I loved the first story arc, though at times I found Jae Lee’s art to be a little confounding. It’s beautiful and he’s one of my favorite artists, but not everybody is right for everything. Even my beloved Francesco Francavilla isn’t perfect for every title.
But in the end I dug that first story and was eager for more.
Then we got the crap that’s happening now, which I cannot enjoy because it is printed sideways and I can’t stand to read it. I can’t even judge the story because I am so irritated about the orientation of the book. Bret Booth is the artist for this arc. I like his work just fine, but his style is what I would call “standard modern DC”. I feel like this should be a title with different and interesting artists trying new things. I mean, new things that don’t make me read the comic in an uncomfortable way. If I have to read the next issue in a mirror I’m dropping this one.
Verdict – PROBATION
BATWOMAN
The first issue by the new creative team is linear and entertaining. The story is very easy to understand and the art is nice to look at. New writer Marc Andreyko had to deal with making this a Zero Year tie-in, so it’s kind of off, but anything would have felt strange after the confusing mess that was the last creative team’s run. And I don’t necessarily mean “mess” in a bad way, but I do mean “confusing” in a bad way.
Verdict - PROBATION
CABLE AND X-FORCE
This book keeps in line with the new Marvel NOW ethic of all-action, all the time. I’m enjoying it immensely, particularly since the story is centering around one of my favorite mutants – Forge.
Verdict – KEEPER
CHIN MUSIC
The first two issues of this book were weird words from Steve Niles and beautiful pictures by Tony Harris. If you like those guys, you should be reading this one.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
DOCTOR WHO
I was afraid IDW’s excellent Doctor Who comic was going to go out with a wet “pfffft” rather than a bang. The final story arc was tedious and felt like a revisiting of one of my least favorite stories from the last season of television – the Old West one with Ben Browder. I don’t have anything against Westerns, but I have had as much of the Doctor in the Old West as I want for the next decade or so. Enough with the anachronistic villains in the desert.
I will give that arc credit for tying up the old mystery of who was living in the TARDIS and for including Oscar Wilde in a Doctor Who story. I mean, it was inevitable, but it was still neat to see.
That final arc was not the final story, though. IDW produced one final adventure of Doctor Eleven in the form of an extra-long one-shot. The premise is that the Doctor slips into our universe and meets Matt Smith. Obviously this sounds like a terrible idea. Until you notice the name on the top right corner of the book in the writer’s spot – Paul Cornell. I have yet to discover a bad piece of fiction from Cornell. This story was fun and executed in the only way such a story could have been – with tongue firmly in cheek and continuity meaningless.
Thank you to IDW and all of the creators that the company employed to bring us great Doctor who content over the past several years. If the new publisher is wise they’ll continue using some of the same folks.
Verdict – JOB WELL DONE
DOCTOR WHO: PRISONERS OF TIME
This was a fantastic companion to all of the other Fiftieth Anniversary releases. I highly recommend you pick up the collected editions. The art got spotty in a couple of issues, but the overall narrative was awesome and answered one of the huge questions you never knew you had. I won’t spoil it, but when you find out you’ll be pleased. I guarantee an involuntary verbal, “OH!”
Verdict – JOB WELL DONE
THE EXTINCTION PARADE
I liked Max Brooks’ story of the vampires realizing they’re fucked after the zombie apocalypse, but I just couldn’t tolerate the art. It isn’t bad, but it’s that overly-detailed and too-busy style that a lot of the Avatar comics use and I just can’t stand to look at that stuff.
Verdict – THE WIFE IS READING IT NOW
HACK/SLASH VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS
I never imagined I’d be saying this, but this is a far better Army of Darkness book than the one that one of my favorite writers is putting out. The tone is perfect. Ash and Cassie have a great rapport, the humor and stakes work well together, and the story is well done and creates a decent reason for the two of them to have teamed up. Somehow this manages to be a logical continuation of both Hack/Slash and Army of Darkness. I love it.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
HARLEY QUINN
I have to admit that I was disappointed when I found out that Amanda Conner was not going to be the artist on this book, that she was only co-writing it with her husband Jimmy Palmiotti. But I love Palmiotti’s writing and Conner’s humor so much that I still wanted to check the title out.
The zero issue was fun. It was a new starting point for Harley and had a very Deadpool-esque feel to it. Not quite to the fourth-wall-breaking extent of Marvel’s Merc With A Mouth, but definitely more zany and cartoonish than the rest of the New 52 (which all takes itself far too seriously in my opinion). It was set up as a try-out issue for several different artists, each illustrating a short story in their own style complete with commentary from Harley and the writers. By the end, Harley’s new status quo had been set.
The first issue has a slightly less chaotic tone, but is still a whole lot of fun. Harley has to deal with the occupants of the building she inherited in the zero issue while making ends meet. It’s utterly ridiculous and an absurd situation for one of the most wanted criminals of the DCU to be in and I love it for that. If the CW wants a basis for their next DC show, they need look no further than Harley Quinn running an apartment building (or retail block or whatever it is).
Oh, and the regular artist is awesome. I’m not familiar with Chad Hardin, but he has a good comic book style that lends itself to physical comedy without being too cartoony.
Verdict –KEEPER
INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK
The art has gotten a little shaky, but the story is still excellent. As long as we keep seeing the basic premise of “Banner is the smartest one there is”, I’ll keep reading.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
IRON MAN
Tony Stark at his egotistical best. Now he’s building the City of the Future. Surely nothing could go wrong there, right? Plus, Mandarin’s rings are assembling what I like to call the Mandarin Corps in a blatant… what’s the word for when you’re doing a tongue-in-cheek, intentional ripoff? I don’t know but it’s basically DC’s rainbow Lantern Corps, but with Mandarin’s rings. Right down to the whole, “…You have been chosen…”
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
REVIVAL
Tim Seeley and Mike Norton continue to produce a quality supernatural thriller.
Side Note: I am often shocked at how graphic and profane Mike Norton can be on Twitter. Then I realize I’m looking at Jim Norton.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
SAGA
So remember up there when I said I had no idea what was going on in Batman? Not only do I know exactly what happened in the last issue of Saga, I could give you a synopsis of everything that has happened in this book since the first issue.
This is still the best comic book I have ever read.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
STAR WARS
This was an okay comic, but nothing I’d say was a must-read. As I said with Doctor Who and IDW, I certainly hope that when Marvel starts putting together Star Wars comics they use a lot of the same talent as Dark Horse.
Side Note: I saw a lot of mockery of Disney’s decision to put a committee together to determine what was canon in the Star Wars universe. Really? You think with the rich (and insane) history of the franchise it’s a bad idea to define what will impact all future media releases? I heard the news and was excited and impressed that they had the foresight to do such a thing and enough respect for the history of the license to be planning something like this.
Granted, I knew there was a good chance that much of my beloved Expanded Universe would be rendered invalid, but that doesn’t mean those stories don’t exist anymore. Heck, a ton of EU stuff contradicts itself and movies anyway. How frustrating was it to see Even Piell’s conflicting stories in the EU novels and on Star Wars: The Clone Wars? No more of that!
Then I started to see people’s reactions. They were mocking Disney for doing it. I’ll never understand the internet.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
STAR WARS: DARK TIMES
For me, this is the go-to Star Wars comic. I love all of the characters and the story of Vader’s obsession with hunting Jedi has been engrossing – exactly what I expected to see after the allusions of the movies. I believe the last issue was the last issue, judging from the cryptic message in the letters column. While I hope that Marvel will draw from the talents Dark Horse has used over the years, I doubt very much they will directly continue any of Dark Horse’s narratives.
Verdict – BUY THE COLLECTIONS
UNCANNY AVENGERS
This book is a rip-roaring adventure in the Mighty Marvel Manner (or whatever). Rick Remender is telling what feels like one of the ultimate tales of the X-Men, but that doesn’t mean that the Avengers that are involved are second bananas. Wonder Man, Cap, and Wasp are all critical to events and Remender is managing a spectacular all-star ensemble cast in a way that I would not have thought possible. How the fuck do you team up Havok and Captain America? This is how. I love this book. And the fact that it has made its way through a string of amazingly talented artists with complimentary styles (by which I mean the change-ups have not been jarring to the narrative) is a singular achievement.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
UNCANNY X-FORCE
I am loving this story because it feels like there is no chance in hell that the good guys are going to win, but you know they will.
BUT AT WHAT COST!?!
Verdict – KEEPER
WALKING DEAD
Excellence in every single issue.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
THE WAKE
This undersea saga by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy just keeps getting weirder. I started off feeling like it would be a great movie, but now it’s almost getting too big. I’d still love to see it on the silver screen, but it would be a massive undertaking.
Verdict – TOP OF THE STACK
WOLVERINE
Paul Cornell. Alan Davis.
FUCK YES.
I think Marvel is relaunching this one in a couple of months. Cornell is still writing, so I’ll still be reading.
Verdict – GREAT BOOK
WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN
This one is also getting relaunched, but with a new creative team.
Verdict – DROPPING IT
Okay, so I didn’t drop five titles. But between dropping Wolverine and the X-Men, the loss of IDW books (and no new Who announced), and the impending end of Star Wars at Dark Horse, that’s five.
That’s a cop-out. I will do my best to take another look at this before it posts. If there isn’t a green Side Note below this statement when it does, then I have failed not just you, but myself!


Other Comic-Related News
Adam WarRock is amazing.
I realize that this is not going to be news to most of you, but it’s a revelation that I’ve only recently experienced.
Sometime last year (or maybe even in 2012) I downloaded WarRock’s Browncoats mixtape – the show, not COBRA’s saboteur; though I would totally download that too). I didn’t know anything about WarRock other than he was frequently mentioned by Comics Alliance’s Chris Sims. I was expecting something humorous. Possibly along the lines of mc chris. What I got instead was some serious, well done hip-hop that happened to be about the crew of the Serenity. I thought it was well done, but the tone was so different from what I was expecting that it didn’t click with me. I posted something on Twitter expressing this sentiment and was immediately attacked by some insane Adam WarRock fan.
I’m not sure this is the first instance of somebody having a problem with me expressing my opinion, but it has certainly been an ongoing theme lately. If you don’t like or agree with my opinion that’s fine. But if you think you can tell me that I shouldn’t be expressing my opinion then you can stuff that right up your ass.
I responded to this guy something along those lines and before it got any further WarRock himself stepped in with something along the lines of, “Hey guys – not everybody has to like everything; let’s all be cool.” I don’t want to read too much into whichever 120 characters he used to express this, but I feel like he recognized that his nutjob fan might turn a potential fan away. The nutjob is the one that tagged WarRock in the first place. I wasn’t even following the guy. And I’ll tell you this – if WarRock hadn’t stepped in I don’t know that I would have ever given his music another chance. I’m not saying that I need the gentle hand of every musician in the world to guide me to liking their music, but if my only interaction had been with that one hypersensitive dude I probably would have written the whole thing off.
I listened to the Browncoats Mixtape a few more times and liked it, but it still didn’t quite click. But I had a lot of respect for WarRock himself. I added him to my Twitter feed just to keep abreast of what he was up to.
A couple of weeks ago I found out that what he was up to was a DoctorWho Mixtape. It was going to be time to give Mr. WarRock another try, because nobody is going to be rapping about Doctor Who without me checking it out.
The Doctor Who Mixtape is ridiculously good.
This time I was prepared for WarRock’s legit hip-hop style and was able to enjoy the 8 track collection from that perspective. The samples are fantastic and the rhymes are mesmerizing. I think WarRock’s flow is influenced more by Jay-Z, Nas, and Tupac than by the Native Tongue stuff I prefer, but the guy has a lot of talent.
Anyway, I quickly downloaded everything on his site. The reason this little mini post is popping up in the Comic Book Update is because a ton of his stuff is comic book oriented. In addition to mixtapes about Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who he has collections about X-Factor, the West Coast Avengers, and Marvel NOW (there’s a track on that one about the Hulk that is just stupid good). It’s all great stuff and you should go download it now:
Now, the problem I have is that I’ve gotten all of this great music for free and I want to contribute something to the guy that made it. If you’re like me and feel that artists should be compensated for their hard work by individuals, then there’s good news – he has a Bandcamp page with stuff for sale!:
There are full-length albums and a t-shirt. Go buy them.
I’m hoping to catch WarRock on tour now and I really think he would make a great Dragon con performer. Hip-hop has been sadly underrepresented at my favorite con, which is inexcusable because it has had the longest running relationship with nerd culture. You can go back to the early 90s and find guys like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien referencing dorkery. 
Stay tuned to Needless Things for more about Adam WarRock... 
-Phantom

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