This Week's Reviews:
Bigger Bang #1
Deep State #1
All-New Captain America #1
Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #1
Superior Iron Man #1
Django/Zorro #1 (of 6) (Dynamite/Vertigo, $3.99)
By Graig Kent
When news hit from San Diego Comic Con of the Django/Zorro crossover, I was beyond excited. I've been an avid fan of Quentin Tarantino since watching Pulp Fiction six times in the theatre back in 1994. Every Tarantino film since has been an event movie, met by me with as much anticipation as the next superhero blockbuster or sci-fi epic. Sometimes I wind up not liking the latest flick as much as previous ones, but I've yet to be disappointed by one of his efforts. There aren't many creators that have that kind of done-no-wrong track record with me.
With the serious amount of myth-making and world building that happens in a Tarantino flick, they're ripe and ready-made for sequels and spin-offs, of continuations of any sort in any medium. Yet, after over 20 years of making movies, he hasn't made a single sequel (as we know, Kill Bill was really one film split into two parts by the distributor) nor has he licensed his characters to appear in other media, be it television, novels, comics, theatre, radio, video games, podcasts or whatever. With that in mind, Django/Zorro wasn't just the most unexpected announcement from San Diego this year, but, with Tarantino backing it, also its most exciting.
That excitement and anticipation carried through for me right up to issue one's release date this past Wednesday when I got my hands on it (after making the choice between a sweet Jae Lee or Francesco Francavilla cover…the Matt Wagner alternate was sadly tepid), and sat down to read it. I opened to the front page, the inside front cover boasting "Written by Quentin Tarantino and Matt Wagner", a cheesy grin assuredly on my face…. a grin which slowly fell away as I read the first four pages of the book. That's when I remembered I don't know a damn thing about Zorro, and have absolutely no prior investment in the character.
Beyond the "mark of Z" and the traditional Zorro garb, I really don't know anything about him. Don Diego de la Vega! That's his name? Huh. Who's the Native American driving his stagecoach? Should we know him? It's not that a meeting of Zorro (who is in his 70's now, in order to meet up with Django's timeline) and Djano isn't still intriguing, but without really knowing Zorro it's not quite as momentous.
The story of the first issue is the duo's meet-cute, the happenstance that brings the two of them together. Django is on a bounty hunt and uses Don Diego's fancy ride to lure his thievin' prey. After succeeding in his task, Don Diego is suitably impressed, and hires Django to accompany him on his journey. At a stopover, Django bears witness that the elderly man is so much more than he seems.
Their conversations bear a similarity to Django's exchanges with Dr. Schultz, a fact not lost on the bounty hunter. That they form fast friends with mutual respect is easily the most engaging part of the book, otherwise it's a somewhat understated opening to the mini-series, surprisingly straightforward. There are no typical Tarantino-esque asides, cut-away to scenes of other characters engaged in amusingly banal talk, juxtaposed against an extreme situation. I hope those will come in future issues, but even a one page monologue from the villain of the piece (the yet-to-be-seen Archduke of Arizona) would have serviced the book exceptionally well. As such it seems far more Matt Wagner's show than Tarantino's (to be expected, but still a slight disappointment).
The art from veteran Spanish illustrator Esteve Polls is utterly suited to the western genre. A soft brush gives the lines and shadows a sandy feel, while the feathery cross-hatching is reminiscent of classic 50's and 60's westerns. If there's a bridge between the Italian eroticist Serpieri and war/western/romance master Russ Heath, Polls crosses it. The detailing here is absolutely lovely. Best of all he draws Django not as Jamie Foxx, but as if Jamie Foxx was the right choice to emulate his Django. There's ownership of the character in his art, with both characters even, that sells their meeting as if it were natural.
It's not breaking any conventional molds, nor conforming to the unconventional ones, at the very least promise still remains in the premise, and that's enough to keep me coming back. The excitement Tarantino and Wagner expressed at San Diego has to pay off sometime, doesn't it?
On TV this week Graig Kent saw the Flash run up walls and on water, and Green Arrow fire off a boxing glove arrow, his little nerd brain almost exploded. He recovered in time to continue releasing his unpublished novel, Quarter City, a chapter a day on Wattpad. It's about people with superpowers and stuff.
Bigger Bang #1 (IDW, $3.99)
By Cat Taylor
It may have been my imagination but I'm pretty sure that a 1987 issue of New Mutants somehow merged itself with the first issue of Bigger Bang. The merger of this past and present had its biggest impact on the art. At least it certainly appears that this issue's artist, Vassilis Gogtzilas, was strongly influenced by the early Bill Sienkiewicz art from that era of New Mutants. Not that I can blame him. During a time of heavily cemented "Marvel house-style" comics, Sienkiewicz was apparently allowed to go crazy and he produced wild art that had never been seen in a Marvel comic before. It was a mixed media style that combined abstraction, expressionism, and a lot of sketchy panels that looked like the work of a madman.
I say all of this to empathize with Gogtzilas' apparently strong desire to emulate Sienkiewicz. As a Sienckiewicz imitator, he could make a living as an art forger. Even the blob-like toothy alien villain, Thulu, is reminiscent of Mojo from the New Mutants. On one hand, it's a blast from the past for us older fans to see the early Sienkiewicz style gracing comic books again. On the other hand, I've just spent to first paragraph of this review praising the work of Sienkiewicz instead of praising Gogtzilas, the actual artist. I have seen some of Gogtzilas' other work, including Popgun and Adventures of Augusta Wind. So, I know he is quite talented and capable of being more than a Sienkiewicz impersonator. However, in this case, I see what I see.
When it comes to establishing one's own style, writer D.J. Kirkbride fares much better. Of course, Kirkbride is a well-established writer known mainly for his award-winning work on Popgun as well as several books about his character, Amelia Cole. In the case of Bigger Bang, his hero is a Superman archetype known as Destroyer, but the character has a unique origin and a complicated personality that makes his relation to other living creatures far different than most other Superman archetypes. The character's origin is in the title of this series. To paraphrase the marketing synopsis of the book, our universe was created by the Big Bang, and Destroyer was created by an even Bigger Bang.
As this "superman" is a character more powerful than our entire universe, he isn't exactly adored by the billions of people he saves. Instead they fear him and some of them make comments that where he goes, death and destruction follow. I assume that future issues will explore that belief more fully since this issue spends a great amount of time establishing that reputation for the character while simultaneously showing him saving lives.
As with a lot of first issues, this one feels very incomplete. That's not necessarily a bad thing though since enough seeds are planted to make me want to explore this character and the associated concepts further. The main criticism of Superman by average readers is that he's too powerful to build an interesting story around. What these readers are actually saying is that it's hard for writers to give him villains that are credible threats. However, an interesting story about an all-powerful being doesn't have to involve a physical battle with an opponent. A few writers understand this and have written good stories about Superman and similar archetypes. Kirkbride seems to be one of the writers who understand this as well, and the first issue of Bigger Bang shows tremendous potential of creating some deep thought-provoking stories about an "all-powerful Superman." I've taken the bait and now the hook is in my cheek.
Cat Taylor has been reading comics since the 1970s. Some of his favorite writers are Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Peter Bagge, and Kurt Busiek. Prior to writing about comics, Taylor performed in punk rock bands and on the outlaw professional wrestling circuit. During that time he also wrote for music and pro wrestling fanzines. In addition to writing about comics, Taylor tries to be funny by writing fast food fish sandwich reviews for Brophisticate.com, but right now he is not amused. In fact, he's kind of pissed off. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deep State #1 (Boom! $3.99)
By Jeb D.
Conspiracies make good grist for the fictional mill because they're open-ended and self-perpeutating: no amount of evidence can be mounted against a good conspiracy theory that can't be dismissed as "just part of the conspiracy." Recent years have seen quite a few interesting comics in this vein (Letter 44, Saucer Country, The Manhattan Projects, Mind MGMT, etc.), and Deep State is the latest to play in the conspiracy theory sandbox, positioning itself smack dab in the middle of Planetary and The X-Files by way of Men In Black: the mismatched male-female team of investigators will be tasked not with revealing the truth that is "out there," but keeping it buried.
We are introduced to Ms. Branch (no first name so far), an FBI agent working late at her desk, obsessing over an old cold case: her boss tells her for the umpteenth time to drop it and go home, but she's driven to find the truth, a characteristic that will bring her to the attention of Mr. Harrow, an apparently ordinary business suited chap who appears mysteriously in her apartment, demonstrates that he knows all about her, and offers her a job helping him keep the lid on the world's secrets.
Writer Justin Jordan is in a tough damned-if-you-do spot here: the rather bald exposition is delivered in a lengthy infodump from Harrow, but trickling out the details of a logline as derivative as this one over several issues would do the series no service: this way, the reader quickly absorbs the Scully/Mulder and Jay/Kay parallels (Men In Black is actually name-checked in this issue), and can move on to the details of the particular conspiracy that will launch the new partnership, the details of which are the issue's high point; fans of Room 237 or Peter Nevsky and the True Story of the Russian Moon Landing will have fun with it. At this point, it's way too early to know if the relationship between Branch and Harrow will click in the way their predecessors did (it feels pretty formulaic so far), but the level of imaginative detail that Jordan brings to the specifics of the plot should keep things moving along while we (and he) get to know them better.
Indonesian artist Ariela Kristantina has a nicely coarse style that is perfectly suited to a story where things won't always be as they seem: there's a very clear contrast between the precision of Branch's facial features and the slightly amorphous quality she brings to Harrow. And, as befits a tale of monstrous secrets, she gives good monster; I'm reminded of the rough expressiveness of Tommy Lee Edwards, and his ability to make the fantastic always feel down to earth.
As I say, conspiracy comics are a pretty crowded field these days; it's too early to dismiss Deep State out of hand, and Kristantina's art is absolutely worth taking a good look at this first issue. But Stark and Harrow are going to have to emerge as distinctive characters if the series is going to have any real legs.
Avengers NEWer and NOWer Than Ever
All-New Captain America #1, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #1, Superior Iron Man #1, Thor #2 (Marvel)
By Jeb D.
Given the inevitability of comic book intellectual property trademarks (or as they're sometimes known, characters) being retooled and rejiggered to remain top of mind in today's ADHD pop culture environment, I suppose it's nice that Marvel is showing a willingness to let the comics tail wag the corporate dog, and come up with changes to various Avengers that actually don't go in lockstep with the film franchises. And while no one expects these changes to last forever, since we're just six months away from Age of Ultron hitting theaters, it's entirely possible that next year's Free Comic Book day will find the influx of n00bs at your LCS scratching their heads about Thor now resembling Chris Hemsworth in a dress. Good times.
Sam Wilson as Captain America is the "newsworthy" story that carries over from USA Today, and the big dog gets two #1 issues this week. I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of John Romita, Jr. (admire his storytelling, don't care for his character design), so I drifted away from Cap's alternate-universe adventures after a couple of issues. His now-grown "son" (Arnim Zola's kid, Ian, whom Steve Rogers more or less adopted) evidently returned to the regular Marvel U along with Rogers, so now we're running the dueling-legacies playbook again, with some prickly exchanges between Ian and Sam as to who's best suited to carry on (Bucky having been booted to outer space to remove him from the discussion). I'm probably as big a fan of Stuart Immonen as I'm not of Romita, so I'm pleased to say that this issue looks typically fantastic. For Rick Remender, this first issue script's a bit bland, but it's good meat-and-potatoes spandex stuff.
Al Ewing and Luke Ross have the honor of launching the offshoot book, and it's pretty heavily Axis-fied, as Sam's starting to get tired of the namby-pamby crimefighting approach of Luke Cage's Mighty team, and setting up the slugfest to come. Ross' work has more Greg Land polish to it than I'd prefer, but it's never dull, which helps move us past Sam's extensive inner monolog text boxes (Spider-Man actually comes off better in this issue than does its titular shield-slinger). Giving Sam Wilson a Punisher-like outlook on crimestopping harkens back to previous legacy handoffs like Knightfall, but it's also barely possible it will have something to say about the conservative perspective of many in America about where the responsibility for the prevalence of black-on-black crime belongs, though I'm not holding my breath. Absent something that interesting, I suspect that Remender and Immonen are the better investment for long-term Cap-ital gains.
I'm a sucker for comics set in San Francisco, so this was the first issue of an Iron Man series I've picked up in quite some time. The creative team of writer Tom Taylor and artist Yildiray Cinar are also new to me (though I know they have track records with DC and the Star Wars franchise), and there's a polish and confidence to this issue that belies their relative inexperience in the Marvel U. After changing the ethnicity and/or gender of other Avengers, shifting Tony Stark from dickish good guy to just all-around dick doesn't present quite as big a splash (so to speak—he spends much of the issue lounging in a pool), and Taylor does a nice job of letting the implications of Tony's evil personality distortion sneak up on us, and the other characters, with a strong payoff. We get guest appearances from some other Bay Area superheroes, and it seems that Taylor has a good story to tell before the inevitable reset button is hit. Cinar's work is pretty straightforward and attractive, but after finding his action scenes a bit static, I wasn't at all surprised to read that he's done a lot of sketch card work. Hopefully he'll loosen up a bit; he does great S.F. travelogue, though.
We've already seen the debut of Jason Aaron's female Thor, and she continues to anchor one of the strongest Asgardian runs in recent memory. The twist this issue is a pair of internal voices that are a bit reminiscent of the last few issues of Cullen Bunn's Fearless Defenders, which might be one reason why Aaron is able to honestly dismiss everyone's guesses as to who the new Thor is: she's not just one character? Russell Dauterman continues his impressive transition from the trimmed hedges of the suburbs to the icy peaks of the moon and the bizarre high-tech Roxxon properties; Matthew Wilson's colors add just the right contrast between the two environments.
Since Marvel's about to delete Fantastic Four from your pull list, you've got room for something new, and Thor's already on there, I'd say that Superior Iron Man is the book of this bunch most likely to bring an entertaining payoff; keep an eye on All-New Cap, though: Remender usually has something up his sleeve.
Jeb D. is a boring old married guy whose comics background includes attending the very first San Diego Comic-Con, being lectured on Doc Savage by Jim Steranko, and fetching an ashtray for Jack Kirby. After a quarter-century in the music biz, he pursues more sedate activities these days, and will certainly have a blog or Facebook account or some such thing one day.