Monday, June 20, 2011

Five Comics Worth Reading - June 2011

BATMAN BEYOND
I was not a regular viewer of the Batman Beyond cartoon—caught a couple stray episodes, the Return of the Joker movie and then the Justice League Unlimited crossover stuff—but Adam Beechen and company have made sure that’s hardly a prerequisite to enjoying this comic. An elderly Bruce Wayne mentoring a snarky new Batman in the future seems like a pretty slam dunk premise, but what I dig about this book is the effort Beechen puts into not resting on the concept’s laurels and pushing himself to go further. Terry McGinnis’ is a great character—he’s Peter Parker with more swagger as Batman—but Beechen focuses on fleshing out the world around him, from his relationship issues—the classic “my girlfriend thinks I’m bailing on her because I’m a super hero” routine but done with panache—to a techno-conspiracy enveloping his best friend/sidekick. There has also been expansion to the Batman/DC Universe elements I believe the cartoon only touched on, including bringing in Dick Grayson, giving the Justice League a bigger role and starting to dig into what happened to Bruce following his Batman career. It’s all stuff that can be pulled off better in the comic book format than in episode TV aimed primarily at kids, so I applaud Beechen, Ryan Benjamin, et al. for embracing the new avenues open to them while keeping the heart of the show and what made it work intact.

GENERATION HOPE
There are few things tougher in this current comic book climate than creating new characters with distinct voices who can hopefully capture the attention of the audience, but with Generation Hope, Kieron Gillen faced this challenge not once but multiple times, with a cast whose most tenured star has only been around a couple years and that includes five newbies that he and Matt Fraction introduced only months ago. There may have been some growing pains early on, but the Five Lights and their leader have genuinely won me over to the point where I’m quite compelled to see what’s up with them each issue and the X-Men guest stars serve more to place them in the larger universal context than anything, thanks in large to the clever and endearing writing of Mr. Gillen. These kids stand out from the New Mutants or Young X-Men of the past in so many ways, not limited to their complete lack of preparation for this life given a world where nascent mutants have become scarce as well as the paramilitary yet arguably practical lifestyle Hope took from her mentor, Cable, and is passing on to her fellow barely adolescents. I enjoy the soap opera I’d argue is paramount for any X-Men title worth its salt, but also the more sinister touches, like exactly how much sway Hope holds over her “friends” and to what degree they realize it. There are also neat well thought out and uniquely Gillen touches like the idea of a mutant who manifests in the womb or the seemingly canine Teon delivering a compelling speech in court because his power is to adapt to situations, and the other Lights then wondering if he was being genuine or if “adapting” in this case meant keeping proximity to Hope whether he liked it or not. Salva Espin is matching the tone of the book nicely, upping his game each month both in terms of bringing fun nuance to the lighter moments and letting his experimental side run wild on a character like Kenji.

INCREDIBLE HULKS
Greg Pak is finishing out a five-year run with The Hulk, and you can tell he’s enjoying every last second of his swansong. If there’s one thing Pak’s Hulk has never been, it’s understated, so when he put together a multi-part spy story that featured Bruce Banner going undercover with a tux—that Hulk promptly ripped—and cool gadgets to save his wife-turned-Red-She-Hulk who had thrown in with his old foe Tyrannus on a quest for Pandora’s Box, you better believe he was going to wring every last drop of awesome out of that description, not skimping at any second for less smashing, fighting, big set pieces or over-the-top resolutions than you’d expect. There have been no shortage of pathos over the last five years, but aside from a healthy dose of heartache peppered throughout and culminating at the conclusion, that arc was more about enjoyment than emotion. Now we come to “Heart of the Monster,” Pak’s big five-part finale, and thus far he’s already brought in every element from the previous story plus Bi-Beast—BI-BEAST!—Wendigo, the Troyjan from Peter David’s legendary run, Fin Fang friggin’ Foom, Umar, a wishing well, possibly the fountain of youth and surely more to come. Pak has also brought Amadeus Cho back to where he started out as Hulk’s alternating tech wiz/sidekick/comic relief and it’s been a beautiful fit. Also also, Tom Grummett on the last arc and Paul Pelletier here are about as delightful a one-two artistic punch as you can ask for. Everything about Pak’s Hulk run has been wonderfully well-rounded, delivering massive action alongside laughs, angst and character development, so this is proving a fitting farewell.

WOLVERINE: THE BEST THERE IS
If there’s anything book on the market today that delivers pretty much what’s advertised on the cover in spades, I do believe it’s Wolverine: The Best There Is, and for the record I consider that a good thing. Up front in black and white you’ve got no shortage of labels letting you know this is not a comic for immature readers or the weak of heart, and it’s not; it’s Charlie Huston’s glorious ode to hyper violence and taking off the safety as you only can with a character like Wolverine—or perhaps only with Wolverine, period—as illustrated with fiendish and sickeningly beautiful visual glee by Juan Jose Ryp. The first arc saw creepy new villain Contagion attempt to unlock the secret to Logan’s healing factor by employing every nefarious trick in his arsenal, be it his own ability to produce the grisliest plagues he could imagine, mind games of the crudest nature, or his array of henchmen with regenerative abilities of their own—a mix of Marvel obscurities Huston delighted in reviving or his own creations—hacking away at our hero in manners most hideous. Best There Is serves as the comic book equivalent of a grind house horror flick in the tradition of Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider, building on brutality, turning the amps louder than they should logically go, and making an experiment in four color sadism the kind of fun you feel mildly guilty about having. Plus: “Suicide” Chris Daniels (not to be confused with Christopher Daniels aka Suicide)!

XOMBI
On the surface, I almost feel like Xombi is a book that should be too smart for me—a testament to the sophistication and layers John Rozum brings to it—but when I get to actually reading, I’m able to follow along without much trouble and get absorbed into a the weirdness of it all—a testament to how skillfully he and the people working with him manage and present those elements as strengths rather weaknesses. The series’ lead, David Kim, is basically immortal and resultantly a bit emotionally detached, but Rozum chooses to examine that condition, letting the narrative live in large part in Xombi’s head, challenging the merits as well as the pitfalls of being so apart from the world at once in a clinical manner but an impassioned one that can’t break free as well. Our cold point of view figure proves a perfect lens to a fantastically bizarre world that includes super-powered nuns, demons powered by their own reputation and men who get their information from loose change. Xombi delights in its weirdness but also knows how to throw in some darn good fight scenes amidst the conspiracies and mythologies, with all of it powered by Frazer Irving, an immensely talented artist whose style stands out amongst anything else in comics, appearing more like wood carvings than drawings at times, and matching up nicely with the story Rozum’s telling, both residing on a plane so separate from about anything else you’ll read. There’s nothing else on the stands anything like Xombi, and I look forward already to reading it back as a whole and enjoying it perhaps even more than I have the parts.

No comments: