May 23, 2014

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Single Minded for 3/12/14: Moore and Storms Have Quite an EGOs

Still working my way through the single issue stuff. I know I should just declare "bankrupt" and start fresh, but I am stubborn, so here we go anyway. Plus, I'd hate to miss getting a chance to talk about some great comics, leading off with Image's sleeper sci-fi Superhero series, EGOs...

EGOs 3
Written by Stuart Moore
Art by Gus Storms
Published by Image Comics

With a weapon of Masse destruction* bearing down on over eight billion people, Deuce and his estranged wife much make peace to save the day--even if it wrecks what's left of their relationship as this strong first opening arc concludes.

One of the things that made Marvel's characters so appealing for decades was the fact that no matter how great the battles were, it was the personal strife that made you feel so close to the heroes involved. Sure, Ben Grimm would clobber Doctor Doom, but he did it because no matter how painful things got, it couldn't match the personal pain of growing up on the streets, fighting for respect, being overlooked as stupid, and finally having yourself turned into a monster. Moore gets that approach, which is why the opening sequence, where Deuce and Pixel argue about his decision to use his evil mother-in-law's technology, is so powerful. A large section of the universe is at stake, but for these two characters, it's about respect and trust between them. The fact that Deuce may have doomed billions is just the icing on the cake, like coming home drunk with lipstick on one too many times.

When things move into action mode, it's a great set piece that uses every part of the team effectively and even gets a spot or two of humor in the mix, as the robot complains about being used in a racist manner by being hooked up to the ship. They save the day, but it's clear--and this is where we move from Silver Age Marvel to modern deconstruction--that Deuce's motives were anything but pure. His broken nature is going to keep this team from being the shining beacon of humanity that the media thinks they are, and watching it go down should be part of the fun of the series.

While the coloring still feels off to me based on the comic's tone, Storms continues his strong layout work, making each of Deuce's clones have their own look and personality--which Moore subtly shows are starting to stick. The facial features really drive the tension between Deuce and Pixel and the portrayal of Masse shows some great understanding of how to make a cosmic, complex being.

EGOs is a real sleeper hit that I highly recommend. It's only three issues in so far, so it's easy to get into the series as well. Check it out.

Copernicus Jones Robot Detective 2
Written by Matt D. Wilson
Art by Kevin Warren
Published by Monkeybrain

Copernicus might just kick the bucket if he can't find a way out of a squeeze play that pits him against his own client in this second issue that's filled with clever gags and references while holding true to the hardboiled detective genre.

Sometimes it's just fun to read a comic that's not trying to be more than it is. This one is purely designed to be fun, as we explore a world where robots and humans live together in a noir world where corruption is rife and danger is behind every corner. Jones is your typical gumshoe with a strong moral--if not ethical--compass, and it's fun to see how he tries to make things right even as the odds are stacked against him. Little touches, like an attempt to throw a live rodent into a bucket of water (called a "reverse toaster") or new, appropriate insults, like "rusthole."

Warren's art on this one keeps that feeling of fun, with some really impressive expression work on the robots, which is no mean feat. They still feel mechanical, but at the same time, you can tell what they are thinking by the lines in their metallic faces or the placement of an angled joint. Backgrounds are still a little light, which is a shame for a period piece, but Warren does appreciate--and use--shadow to help with the noir feeling, which is mixed with comedic moments, like Copernicus jumping out a window of a crime scene or hiding in a bush.

This one has a limited appeal, but if you're the right audience, it's great fun. Just an enjoyable book all around, with strong emphasis on fun.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 32
Story by Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz
Written by Tom Waltz
Line Art by Sophie Campbell
Color Art by Ronda Pattison
Published by IDW

The Turtles fight for their lives while April learns honesty is the best policy as this arc sadly comes to a close with more great character moments and linework that's some of Sophie Campbell's best.

I'm not going to belabor how good this issue is, mostly because I've already said it for the past few issue of the arc. The plotting team gives us a nice resolution to Leonardo's recovery, with a hint that perhaps he's not so recovered after all. Raf's mistakes with Alopex shine brightly, thanks to some great script work from Waltz and a rapid shift from naked rage to unfortunate understanding in the looks on his face, all captured by Campbell, who really goes out with a bang. The action sequence is lively, plays with perspective to give the most punch to kicks, sword strikes, and other moments of the brawl. Watching Campbell go from the gentle moments of the past few issues to this hard-core fighting shows her range nicely. As per usual Pattison gives everything vibrant colors, which to my eyes look especially bright here, as though even the shading it coming out of the shock of Shadowfall.

By the end of the issue, the group is on the move again, ready to face their problems head on. I can't wait to see what happens with them next.

Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps 20
Written by Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart
Line Art by Tom Raney
Colors by Gina Going
Published by Valiant Entertainment

Archer is captured! Armstrong is very, very drunk! Bloodshot's team is conflicted! The mayhem continues and is pleasingly *funny* as a nice bonus in the second part of this crossover.

Used to doing the heavy writing on serious plots for Valiant, Gage and Dysart show their comedy chops, giving Bloodshot some droll lines and Armstrong a great set of jokes, both physical and verbal. My favorite might be sticking his girth into a Shriner-style clown car, toting a huge mega-bazooka. Raney deftly handles his end of the bargain, managing to capture both the power of Armstrong and his inherent comedic nature.

After brawling across multiple pages, Armstrong loses his partner (seems to happen a lot) but forms a plan, even as Project Rising Spirit learns they may not be so well prepared to handle Archer's amazing potential. The way in which Obidiah takes on his foes is an unexpected twist that's perfectly in character, with Raney once again stepping in to make the plot work by coming up with just the right visual.

I was really dubious about this crossover, but this second part was some of the best Archer and Armstrong moments I've seen so far this year. Now the ball is back with Van Lente, who can hopefully give serve and keep the jokes flowing like beer and return the tone to its usual irreverence.

Beasts of Burden Hunters & Gatherers One Shot
Written by Evan Dorkin
Illustrated by Jill Thompson
Published by Dark Horse Comics

The Beasts gang are back in a one-and-done story pitting them against an ancient, unseen evil in a deadly chase to save the forest from an unstoppable predator in an issue that's enjoyable but feels a lot like filler.

I remember first reading the Beasts in a series of small anthologies Dark Horse created called "The Dark Horse Book of..." which I quite enjoyed. Dorkin makes the talking animal trope work extremely well (no easy task) and Thompson's painted art gave it quite the distinctive look and feel. I'm really looking forward to the next major arc, in which many of the threads being hinted at, both here and elsewhere, start to evolve.

The problem is that this one loses a bit of impact by *not* moving the threads. We get vague references to troubles elsewhere and the story ends with the crows and the rats conspiring together, but otherwise, it's a "monster of the week" tale with Dorkin's patented quips and Thompson's fine brush work. The pair do a great job of making it exciting, as the beasts create a relay race that strongly reflects their individual strengths as characters, and we start to think that maybe someone in the company will meet their fate this night.

Unfortunately, though, it's the kind of thing that would work if it was issue two of a mini-series or issue 37 of an ongoing, but on its own, just doesn't have enough life to make it work. If this were the first time I'd encountered the characters, I'd miss the depth and complexity that Dorkin and Thompson worked so hard to build in earlier encounters. This one just didn't register for me as much as I'd hoped, but I still enjoyed it. It's just more a book for long-time fans instead of a way to get folks clamoring for a new mini, and that disappointed me.

Again, this is a very personal reaction, and may not reflect the issue's merits as a whole. Take that for what it's worth.

Manifest Destiny 5
Written by Chris Dingess
Line Art by Matthew Roberts
Color Art by Owen Gieni
Published by Image Comics

Lewis and Clark gear up to kill the strange plant people as this series starts to grow on me, no pun intended.

I have to admit, for whatever reason, the first several issues of this title didn't work for me at all, and it's still got some rough edges, particularly in terms of the pacing and dialogue. The high concept (What if there were supernatural creatures in the Louisiana Purchase?) should be right up my alley, but it just felt very stilted to me, as if the existence of the monsters were all that was needed to carry out the plot.

To some degree, that's still true here, but the idea that Lewis' scientific curiosity might be the death of them all and the idea of a semi-sentient plant monster that absorbs mammals, Borg-like, has me intrigued. With the addition of Sacajawea to the party, there's just enough going on to make me want to see how it plays out. Unfortunately, right now, that's still going slowly, though the big reveal at the end of this issue promises more action to come.

I have no complaints at all about Roberts' artwork, which captures the historical setting well, then adds fantastical elements without missing a beat. The plant creatures are horrific in their detail, not because they're rotting or disgusting, but because they look like the animals who've been subsumed and can never return to their humanity. I really liked that touch, as it takes advantage of the old horror idea that the familiar can be scarier than the unreal.

Manifest Destiny is a mixed bag for me at the moment, but if you were on the fence, take a look at this issue and see what you think.

Ghost 2
Story by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Chris Sebela
Line Art by Ryan Sook, Drew Johnson, and Andy Owens
Color Art by Dave McCaig
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Elisa pairs with a demon who might be able to help her, but whose agenda is he serving, as subplots build in a second issue with plenty of action and gorgeous layout work from Sook.

One of the things that sets Ghost apart from other monster-killing comics is the idea that while Elisa wants to destroy the demons who are invading Chicago, she also has a very personal quest--to find out once and for all who she is. Despite a general mission to stop evil, this drive to regain what she's lost at the hands of the enemy can sometimes put her into a blind spot or trap. That's the case here, as other pressing issues are subsumed to Elisa's desire for knowledge. When--not if--that comes back to hurt her will be a major part of this arc, unless I miss my guess.

Despite only having Sook on layouts for over half the issue, there's a strong sense of continuity thanks to having only one inker, Andy Owens. Sook's style is perfect for a book like this, with smooth, rolling lines that give everything just a touch of unreality about them. He varies the look and shape of the panels nicely, and Elisa always takes the spotlight in whatever situation she's in. McCaig's coloring is clever, too, such as making the demon club a burnt orange or keeping Elisa's white ghost costume a shade brighter than anything else around.

Ghost has been a pleasant surprise so far, and is worth look at, even if you don't have much experience with the character.

East of West 10
Written by Johnathan Hickman
Line Art by Nick Dragotta
Color by Frank Martin
Published by Image Comics

Death takes a holiday to the land of his assistant Wolf's father, searching for a child whose potential as the Great Beast is the center piece in the other Horsemen's grand plan, but a new figure shoots into the picture as this admittedly confusing but intriguing story continues.

With Hickman, you always have to play the long game, waiting to see how all he's envisioned starts to come together. We're seeing that a bit here, as the threads begin to intertwine and it becomes clear that the end result is going to be disastrous for all involved. There's a ton of veiled references here and possible clues, which could easily be dead ends or false positives, depending on Hickman's choices.

The highlight is the opening sequence, though, as Death's sacrifice for information creates an amazing series of antagonistic lines that promise much of the destruction to come. Though only two pages long, it packs a strong punch, thanks to Dragotta's focus on the eye that Death gave up to get information that may only come to haunt him.

Because the story is a bit, well, obtuse, a lot of the work falls on Dragotta to keep it interesting for the reader, and he succeeds, with little touches like a dead tree in a wasteland with various skulls and bones dangling from its lifeless limbs or the fight sequence against Wolf's father, which is told almost entirely in visuals instead of words. You have to linger to note that the crow adjusts Death's pistol, for example. It's great work and shows that when done right, the visuals in a comic can--and should--be able to tell the story, too. We don't see nearly enough of that.

I'm still struggling with East of West a bit, because of the still-vague nature of the plot. But I think it's starting to come together, and probably will read amazing in the trade.**

Nosferatu Wars One Shot
Written by Steve Niles
Art by Mention3
Published by Dark Horse Comics

A vampire love story ends with an abrupt, barely explained twist setting up future stories instead of completing this one in another unsatisfying effort from Steve Niles.

No amount of wistful, abstract visuals from frequent Niles collaborative partner Mention3 can save this one, which overdoes the gothic tone from the beginning as a vampire narrates life with his partner, an aggressive female who doesn't care to stand on ceremony. Just as they face persecution from their own kind, aliens--aliens--drop into the picture, separating the pair.

That would have been an odd, but interesting ending, except Niles pushes it into "Oh yeah, she took over the world" territory with an off-hand reference that feels like it was cribbed from story notes. Which is appropriate, because this one-shot, which originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents, feels like it's still in the draft stage but was rushed out before forming into a cohesive plot.

Working hard to keep it together is Mention3, and given their talent lies in varying things from panel to panel and often using representative images and shapes instead of clear-cut layouts, that's just not fair to ask. This time around, there's more cohesion to the narrative visuals, and I actually really liked the layouts and design.

Unfortunately, however, it's just not enough to recommend this one, which would be okay filler in an anthology but does not stand up at all on its own. Horror fans can find better, either from Niles or elsewhere.

*I bet I already used that joke. Tough. It's a great opening.

**East of West and Hickman as a writer are very good examples of why I think certain ideas/writers should just go straight to graphic novels.