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December’s Number Ones

Posted on December 23rd, 2014

Articles Comic Books Review

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Here we go again. Another round of books you might want to try out, except I’ve done it for you first, and maybe these short reviews can help orient you towards the ones most relevant to your interests and gauge for quality.

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Angela: Asgard’s Assassin by Kieron Gillen, Phil Jimenez, Tom Palmer, Marguerite Bennett and Stephanie Hans for Marvel. Where Kieron Gillen goes, I tend to follow. And in an Asgard-based title? I loved his Kid Loki adventures in Journey Into Mystery. But can I get into a character born in Spawn and in the most convoluted fashion traded to the Marvel Universe for reasons we won’t get into here? Let’s just say it’s a harder sell as a result. I’m not even sure the backstory is even that clear. Does it matter if Gillen’s trademark humor and epic story telling is in play? (And it is.) I dare say no, though the series needs a better hook than “Odin’s illegitimate daughter on the run” if it’s to stay on my pull list (the title suggests it will). And yes, it is odd to read what could be a female Thor when there’s already a female Thor out there; though that shouldn’t be taken as a complaint. Angela’s friend Sera is by far the best character, but if Gillen is true to form, he’ll be added more quirky and interesting ones to the mix. The world he creates is connected to Thor’s, but it has its own mythology too, and perhaps winks at Angela’s meta-origins – or is this chase through Limbo not supposed to remind me of Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man? He gives Angela a particularly D&Dish motivation – balance – which will be interesting to see carried out, but it makes it hard to warm up to her for now. She’s rather scary. Phil Jimenez’ art is in keeping with this, its amazon types solid and powerful as opposed to sexualized, which is a good – and rare! – approach.
Recommended? Well, they certainly assembled a stellar team for a title I initially had no intention of reading, and that’s made the difference. Angela is off to a good start. It’s funny and epic in scope, and the initial confusion is mine for not reading any of her other Marvel appearances and should evaporate in due course.

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Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro for Image. Unashamedly feminist, DeConnick’s new book is a rowdy, irreverent women’s prison story set in a science fiction future. It’s got strong language, violence and nudity, and it’s a fun reaction to these strangely misogynous times (I say “strangely” because I can’t understand how the Western world can still be so sexist, and yet it is, dangerously so). We’re not so far from Bitch Planet’s dystopia, so the book reads as totally ironic. You can totally feel DeConnick’s smirk behind it, and want to see the “non-compliant” women take over the prison, escape, whatever the writer wants to have them do. In the span of a single issue, the reader will have decided this society needs to be taken down and so will side with convicted criminals. No small feat. De Landro’s art is up to the challenge and gets a nice boost from Cris Peter’s color effects. Bonus points for parody ads in the back, they’re hilarious. For more, please check out Brent Gladney’s longer review of the book, right here on this blog.
Recommended? The discerning mature reader should put this on his or her pull list right away.

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Gotham by Midnight by Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith for DC. No, that’s not Constantine on the cover, but you’re forgiven for thinking it is, especially with Fawkes at the helm. No, that’s Jim “The Spectre” Corrigan, and he’s heading a special unit of the Gotham PD, one that looks into supernatural crimes. Even Batman refers some “black book” cases to them. If DC’s had the most success with its Batman Family (well duh) and its Dark books, this is the intersection of the two. We’re introduced to the small crew via a visiting internal affairs officer who wants to shut them down, and the case takes us to the Slaughter Swamp, which is a good way to remind us that Gotham City has a haunted past. Can Jason Blood and Etrigan be far ahead? It’s that kind of Gotham, after all. Templesmith’s art has an ethereal quality, which works well for a horror comic. I do wish the story had started with more of a bang, maybe a recognizable villain, though.
Recommended? If DC MUST church out more Batman books, I’m glad the new editorial stewardship has at least opted to put out books with different feels and even genres like this. It’s got potential.

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Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack for Archie. After the success of Afterlife with Archie – and if you’re not reading that, you have to start, RIGHT NOW – it seemed inevitable that Sabrina the Teenage Witch would spin out of it. It’s perhaps too obvious an idea. I wasn’t sure going in, but the first issue made me a believer. Don’t expect the zombie apocalypse to continue in this book; instead, we’re treated to a world of witchcraft where even Betty and Veronica might dabble in the black arts. The focus is on Sabrina’s origins, her coming to Riverdale, and the truth about her missing parents. A lot of creepiness there, and more than an echo of the irreverence Aguirre-Sacasa gave Afterlife. Salem is, as he must be, hilarious. Hack’s act gives the story a dark fairy tale atmosphere, which fits, and the complaint I’ve read that he’s simply not Afterlife’s Francavilla, well… He’s needed for a different purpose, and keeping the two Archie horror series separate keeps them from diluting the original’s power. Each issue will also contain a vintage Sabrina story, and it looks like they’re digging up the ones where she’s a little sinister!
Recommended? Don’t expect a clone of Afterlife with Archie, but rather something that taps into a more ancient breed of horror. Worthy in its own right.

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Secret Six by Gail Simone, Ken Lashley and Drew Geraci for DC. Like a lot of people, I was a big fan of Gail Simone’s Secret Six. Now they’re back, except they’re not. Only Catman and Black Alice were on the team before, with Simone’s icky female Ventriloquist in the Ragdoll slot. Otherwise, there’s a Talon and new characters. Catman is definitely the star, which makes sense given his high profile in the original team, but he’s younger, sexier and more dangerous (lycanthropic even?). Compared to him, the others are merely sketched in. There’s a “Bane”, a “Scandal” and a “Deadshot”, characters Simone couldn’t get, if you squint. If the members have changed, the tone has not. Still a team of demented, damaged villains; still a more varied spectrum of human sexuality (Catman is clearly bisexual and there’s an apparent transgendered person on the team); and it’s safe to say we can expect the usual shocks and surprises. Simone’s injected an element from the original 60s Secret Six that had been absent for a good long while, a Mockingbird figure calling the shots as a disembodied voice. What it wants, who it is, or if it’s even one of the Six, is unknown at this point. Seems like the Six are being experimented on rather than blackmailed, but that’s perhaps my biggest complaint – we’re definitely on a slow burn here. I prefer it when the first issue of a series asserts its premise a little more strongly. Lashley’s art is kinetic and sensual, though way better when he’s inking himself. Near the end of the issue, he isn’t, and it shows. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean he’s too slow for the monthly beat.
Recommended? If you were a fan of the original, you could get that old feeling back if not the book you liked. If coming fresh to it, you won’t be comparing.

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Shaft by David F. Walker and Bilquis Evely for Dynamite. When you’re picking up an iconic franchise, and putting a character on the cover, you’ve really got to deliver that iconic franchise. Unfortunately, this is Shaft as a young man, sans mustache even. Is it meant to be an origin story, with an older, more hardened John Shaft as of #2? Not from what I’ve read. Not that the issue is badly done. It’s essentially a boxing story intercut with Shaft’s memories of the ‘hood and the ‘Nam. It’s well drawn. It’s got the rampant racism (from all sides and in every direction) that gave the original films their blaxploitative punch. But without the iconic Shaft, it just isn’t the same.
Recommended? Does “Shaft Year One” interest you? Then this book’s for you. I still think Dynamite would have fare better if it had published this as a companion to an “older Shaft” title.

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Spider-Man and the X-Men by Elliott Kalan and Marco Failla for Marvel. This may seem like an odd pairing, but it’s not REALLY the X-Men. It’s the kids from the Jean Gray school. Wolverine’s asked that Spidey become a guest teacher, but not because he thinks Peter would do a good job. Rather, he’s to uncover a traitor. Sounds like a mini-series to me. If you’re thinking of Generation X or Avengers Academy, you’re not far off, but with the Daily Show’s head writer at the controls, it’s much more of a comedy than those books ever were, one that pokes fun at both franchises’ tropes. If that means the characters are a little more cartoonish and one-note, so be it. I’ll forgive a lot if something is genuinely funny. Kalan also gets to use some of the X-Men and Spider-Man’s more embarrassing villains, to good effect. Nice, fun art from Marco Failla, definitely suited to this action comedy.
Recommended? Reminded me of the comedy in the all-ages Marvel Adventures line, which is a good thing.

Seven books, all of them with strong qualities. All depends on what you’re interested in. So what are you going to get?

Siskoid has more than 100 RPG‘s on his shelf, but no one’s lining up to play in his Bunnies & Burrows campaign.

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