Review: Fatale Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 hardcover (Image Comics)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

[Review by Haydn Spurrell]

A femme fatale is defined as an attractive and seductive woman who will cause distress and destruction to a man who becomes involved with her. It's an age-old trope, and was once an effective use of the leading lady in crime noir and hard-boiled detective stories, now worn with use. Ed Brubaker's women have always veered close to the stereotype, with purpose, but in Fatale he takes the concept, applies it to his protagonist, and then warps it so that his story becomes unlike any you've read before. Fatale: The Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 collects the first ten issues, the trades Death Chases Me and The Devil’s Business.

[Review contains spoilers]

Josephine is a woman who is, as far as we know, immortal. We first meet her in the present, when she introduces herself to a man named Nicolas Nash at the funeral of Dominic Raines. She instantly makes an impression on him, and Brubaker establishes her hold over him throughout the book in interludes, prologues, and epilogues as a framing device. But the two central stories that make up the first Fatale deluxe edition are set in entirely different eras; one in the fifties, and the other the seventies. At first they feel like standalones, and for the most part they are. But The Devil's Business grows more and more reliant on Death Chases Me and takes advantage of the structure it establishes.

Both are similar. Jo is the protagonist, but she's also the book's greatest mystery. If you're hoping for more answers than questions, you won't find them here. Jo lures in a number of men throughout both books. In the first, it's Dominic Raines, with whom she develops a relationship (a relationship she attributes to her grandmother, when telling Nicolas Lash about it in the present-day prologue). But Brubaker plays it smart; Jo might be the main character, but she's not entirely the focal one in either story. That role is shared with the men she ensnares.

This might sound like it veers too closely to the definition, making it hard to argue that it establishes something new, but Brubaker's femme fatale is made sympathetic and in many ways heartbreaking. While I don't believe we quite see the extent of her abilities in either story, we first see what she's capable of about halfway through Death Chases Me. She manipulates a man into killing himself, and is seemingly remorseless. In The Devil's Business, we see true fear on her face when she spots some people she didn't believe still existed. In Book One she's reactive. The men steer the narrative forward, so that she's given little agency even in the climax. In Book Two, though, she becomes more proactive, in a way that feels both fitting and essential to the longevity of the series.

Walt Booker is the second-most fascinating character in Death Chases Me. He's an abusive and crooked detective who was once a soldier. Very early on, he's made out as a villain, but the further we go the more we learn. He and Jo's relationship is far deeper than first assumed, and it's a more subtle example of Brubaker's willingness to play around with expectation. The second book's protagonist, Miles, is a struggling actor who finds fame eventually, but that particular reveal mirrors Booker's own fate. It's not repetitive, but it is notable how Brubaker plays to the strength of an established formula.

Sean Phillips's environments alternate between detailed and blurry depending on the era, and his depictions of each character's facial expressions are integral to the script's impact. Brubaker and Phillips take their first steps into the horror genre here, and the visuals are frightening depictions of satanic behavior and violence. The script knows, however, when to show and when not to show. There's an understanding here that sometimes the best horror is the kind we can't see. While I wouldn't call it frightening in a way in which we've become accustomed to, it has a lasting, unnerving affect. The villainous henchmen are designed so simplistically and yet so effectively, and their leader is a pretty convincing definition of evil.

Death Chases Me perhaps comes equipped with a greater punch. Its focus on the cult and the horrors of street-level violence contrasts with the gleam of the Hollywood setting in The Devil's Business (which teases Brubaker's passion toward Hollywood history, as evidenced more completely in The Fade Out). The cast in the former is a more complete ensemble, with each character earning their sufficient amount of panel-time. The latter book's supporting characters are less involved, though there is plenty tragedy in seeing the little corner of the world that Jo creates get torn apart in The Devil's Business.

Josephine remains a mystery by the close of the first volume. The narrative leaps back and forward between character perspectives, and there's no shortage of narration from the series' prominent third-person view. It's occasionally hard to keep up as Brubaker continues to layer his supernatural noir epic with each turn of the page. His stories rely on every fine detail, and they pay off every time. The Fatale: The Deluxe Edition Vol. 1 hardcover includes covers, the trailer for Fatale, character sketches and two select essays originally printed in the monthlies.

Doomed trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hard to believe, but from about Crisis on Infinite Earths through Zero Hour, DC Comics had nearly no dedicated teen-character books on the stands. There were the rapidly-aging New Teen Titans, soon to become the New Titans, and Firestorm Ronnie Raymond (though that book's geopolitics skewed it older), but that was about it. It was not until about a year before Zero Hour that Robin Tim Drake's ongoing series arrived, followed in short order by Superboy and a variety of others long- and short-lived, including Impulse, Anima, Damage, and The Ray. What's de rigueur now with generally some combination of a Robin, Superboy, Supergirl, Blue Beetle, or Teen Titans title was once much more novel.

Writer Scott Lobdell has been an easy whipping boy among the New 52 set, and admittedly his Doomed collection does contain the dialogue "OMG -- how adorbs are you?!" and "OMG doubled!" But if we forgive Lobdell his excesses, I'd venture he's kept "teen spirit" alive pretty well in the New 52, and his Superboy had a strong start even if the quality of Teen Titans rose and fell. Despite that Doomed only lasted six issues, it's got a breathless youthfulness that reminds me of the best of DC's post-Zero Hour teen era. We're pretty far from Tom Joyner's Damage's conspiracy mystery (plug for a Damage collection one day, and also of Joyner's Scarlett), but there's shades of Damage here, if not at least Keith Giffen and John Rogers's original Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series.

Review: Aquaman Vol. 1: The Drowning (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

In Dan Abnett's Rebirth Aquaman Vol. 1: The Drowning, he walks back what I thought was some of his major progress in Aquaman Vol. 8: Out of Darkness. That's a shame, and I do question some of Abnett's choices here, but in my opinion so far Aquaman is the best of the Rebirth debuts. Drowning is political and multi-faceted without lacking for superhero slugfests, and it reminds strongly in this way of Greg Rucka's original Wonder Woman -- high praise indeed. In all I've liked Abnett's Aquaman much more than I thought I would, and reading the next volume is a foregone conclusion.

[Review contains spoilers]

There's an astounding amount going on in The Drowning -- first, Black Manta blowing up the Atlantean Spindrift Station embassy, and then quite separately Atlantean terrorists attacking a US ship just as Aquaman pleads with the White House to reopen the embassy, and then Atlanteans guards getting caught investigating the incident by the US military, leading to Aquaman's incarceration. The big events -- plus Mera breaking Aquaman out of holding and a fight with Superman -- are in some respects unrelated, but cascade to create a particularly bad day for Aquaman and his Atlantean political cause.

Review: Black Monday Murders Vol. 1: All Hail, God Mammon trade paperback (Image Comics)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

[Review by Haydn Spurrell]

When you read a Jonathan Hickman book, you’re really paying for an experience; the layout of the trade, the designs, the blank pages, the quotes. These are purposeful breaths of fresh air between heavy, convoluted plotting. Hickman throws so many characters and so much world-building into The Black Monday Murders Vol. 1: All Hail, God Mammon that, if caught in the wrong mindset, you might give up on it.

[Review contains spoilers]

To call Hickman’s work ambitious is a moot point. It’s simply what you come to expect. His most straight-forward project is East of West, which says a lot. All Hail, God Mammon is a curtain raiser. It’s a bloated first act in a saga that promises more than it gives on the first serve. But in spanning so many years, and tossing so many personalities into the mix, it begs for a second and third read. That would be unfortunate, but Hickman’s writing is on the mark. The dialogue is captivating. The characters have fully formed voices. Many of them are startling and unsettling. It feels as though they’re all smarter than the reader, but not in a condescending way. It’s Hickman daring us to keep up.

Review: Gotham Academy Vol. 2: Calamity trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 13, 2017

With a series of connected but mostly standalone one-and-two issue stories, Becky Cloonan and Brendan Fletcher's Gotham Academy Vol. 2: Calamity likely better reflects this series's actual status quo than the first volume's six-issue cast- and scene-setting. Calamity is entertaining as Gotham Academy goes, and likely more subtly complex than most other books on the stands.

At the same time -- though I grant I may not be Gotham Academy's wholly intended audience -- I thought the "monster of the week" format gave too much license for stories that were silly rather than mysterious or scary, and there's an occasional leap of logic here (mostly by dint of events in other books) that took me out of the story. Equally, however, there's a darn good Bat-family cameo late in this volume, and it's hard to argue with Gotham Academy being pulled closer in to the Batman titles' orbit.

Review: Aquaman Vol. 8: Out of Darkness hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 09, 2017

I've been hearing how good Dan Abnett's Rebirth Aquaman is, but I admit to some skepticism, mainly because I haven't been taken with the art I've seen on that series so far. But Abnett's Aquaman Vol. 8: Out of Darkness, essentially a prologue to his Rebirth series, is really fantastic, and if Darkness is representative of what's to come then Abnett has a winner. Abnett's Aquaman is exactly what I like, taking the character out of the often mundane Atlantean setting and spinning a story that's as much superheroics as political drama and mystery procedural. Special mention, too, of the extra-sized fiftieth issue collected here and drawn by Brett Booth, which is probably the most gorgeous thing I've seen Booth draw. If you're following Aquaman in Rebirth, definitely pick this one up.

Review: The Fade Out Deluxe Edition hardcover (Image Comics)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

[Review by Haydn Spurrell]

From the opening pages of The Fade Out, Ed Brubaker gives us a clear message. “Something in the air made it easier to believe lies,” the protagonist narrates. That people are willing to believe the lies because it’s easier than the truth is a simple through-line, but it paves the way for the twelve-issue series to explore matters of gender and of systematic oppression in a 1940s Hollywood setting that’s equal parts strange as it is familiar, an exaggerated reflection of today’s world that is made even more upsetting because of how real it feels.

Review: Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Just when a book like Teen Titans Vol. 2: Rogue Targets makes your faith in mainstream superhero comics begin to falter, a book like Grayson Vol. 3: Nemesis comes along to restore it. Whether you like or don't Tom King's Batman, Grayson is assuredly he and Tim Seeley's masterpiece. A gripping roller coaster, Nemesis begins as a straight-on spy story, though one that ultimately turns on its head one of the book's heretofore most wrenching moments. It ends with a pair of probably the most continuity-heavy and faithfully nostalgic issues in recent memory, demonstrating that despite how set-apart and in some ways post-superheroic Grayson has been, it's underlied by the writers' deep, abiding, and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the DC Universe. Grayson continues to be something special, and Nemesis is just more proof of that.

Review: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Vol. 1 trade paperback (BOOM! Studios)

Friday, February 03, 2017

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

The idea of a genuinely good Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comic is still something I'm getting used to. While the IDW Transformers comics demonstrated that licensed books could truly be art, Power Rangers has its own issues as a franchise and a concept that have interfered with a decent adaptation. If you've seen a few episodes of any Power Rangers series, you can tell how formulaic they are: a monster attacks, the Rangers fight it and blow it up with their weapons, then the monster gets brought back as a giant. Cue the assembly of their giant Megazord robot and a final victory. It's the same reason why Voltron has hit so many stumbling blocks in all the attempts to adapt it to comics.

Review: Aquaman Vol. 7: Exiled trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, February 02, 2017

If we perceive the writer Cullen Bunn perhaps received instruction to radically change Aquaman but still tell a fairly recognizable Aquaman story, then I would say he succeeded. Aquaman Vol. 7: Exiled takes Aquaman away from most of the familiar elements that have populated the series so far (or at least, has turned them against him), but Bunn does so in a way that seems sensible and true to the Aquaman character to me. Though the dark-costumed Aquaman reads visually "gritty," it's ultimately his nobility that shines through in the story.

But Bunn's story is troubled not in the least because of these very marching orders, which among other things sees Aquaman Arthur Curry given a new power set that doesn't benefit the character, even despite Bunn's good writing of Aquaman for the most part. That's a cautious "for the most part," because whereas Aquaman's actions in Exiled mostly scan, the story turns on a point of naivete that gets exceptionally problematic.