Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Review: Crude #3

Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, and Lee Loughridge‘s saga of oil rigs, Russian gangs, and revenge takes a turn for the violent as in various guises, Piotr tries to find the person responsible for ordering the hit on his son, Kiril, who went to the dangerous city of Blackstone to start a new life and find a place where he would be free to be a bisexual man even if it’s dangerous. Crude #3 is peppered with flashbacks as Piotr wishes he would be a father, and every twelve hour shift, punch thrown, and bone broken is in service of finding some kind of closure. Except, by the time the issue ends, this mission of vengeance is much more complicated.

Brown and Loughridge’s visuals in Crude #3 run the gamut from explosive to mundane. There’s a twelve, nearly silent panel page showing Piotr’s life as an oil rig worker for evil conglomerate PetroPinnacle, and then several pages later, there’s a huge, orange explosion when rival gang Meshe Adam suicide bombs where he works. These two scenes encapsulate what Piotr’s co-worker Mikhail says the reason why many people go to Blackstone: to make lots of money and experience danger that is the opposite of the rocking chair and watching biathlon on TV life that Piotr settled into back in Crude #1. While still following the throughline of Piotr’s vengeance quest, Orlando and Brown dive face first into the lurid, vile world of Blackstone, including strip clubs, back alleys, rooftops, and bath houses because nothing trips up toxic masculinity like some straight up homoeroticism.

Like almost all of the comics he works on, Lee Loughridge and his color choices set the tone and are the unsung heroes of Crude #3 as well complementing Garry Brown’s combination of scratchy and minimalist inking styles. A sequence featuring the skyscraper HQ of PetroPinnacle has a rancid color palette as sickly, Industrial Revolution-seeming smoke billows surround the tower and instantly signal corruption before a word is spoken or an action is carried out. Later, in the book, Loughridge goes for pure sex with a dark pink palette as Piotr tries to be one of the guys and goes to a strip club after work. Finally, there are the harsh blacks to go with close-ups of pockmarked faces that reminded me of Frank Miller’s work in Sin City when Piotr’s motivation is at his purest: killing the scumbags who murdered his son. Loughridge is a true palette maestro.

Three issues in, and Steve Orlando and Garry Brown have barely scratched the surface of the criminal underworld that runs the oil town of Blackstone, such as PetroPinnacle, the less corporate and more anarchist Meshe Adam, and not super well defined Prava plus the ordinary dock workers and small shop and stand owners that Piotr has sort of become a folk hero to. However, because of its singular focus on Piotr, Crude #3 isn’t bogged down by this “lore” and instead of exposition, we get earthy conversations, street fights, and light stalking of big wigs, who spout corporate, motivational bullshit to workers that experience things on a daily basis that they would never dream of. Piotr is like the protagonist of a good, open world video game: he’s competent at the whole violent thing, agreeable in day to day interactions, and has deep, emotional pain that keeps him sympathetic. Plus he has a whole dark streak from his days as an assassin that could easily come to the forefront thanks to the concluding incidents of this issue and also pops up later on when he starts wrecking a man’s apartment and putting heads through walls just to get a clue for her son’s demise. Brown’s rough speed lines help accentuate the violence in these situations.

Crude #3 has plenty of knock your teeth out and kick mud in your face action, dangerous situations, and emotional turmoil as Steve Orlando, Garry Brown, and Lee Loughridge place Piotr on a hopeless quest for vengeance. For fans of Orlando’s previous work, Crude is more Virgil than JLA and has an added layer of moral uncertainty to go with Loughridge’s fiery, hazy, and ever shifting color palette.

Story: Steve Orlando Art: Garry Brown
Colors: Lee Loughridge Letters: Thomas Mauer
Story: 8.8 Art: 9 Overall: 8.9  Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Batman Prelude to the Wedding- Red Hood vs Anarky #1

In part  four of the Batman: Prelude to the Wedding series of one-shots, Tim Seeley, Javier Hernandez, Hugo Petrus, and John Kalisz show Catwoman’s bachelorette party. And Jason Todd, his “Outlaw” teammate Bizarro, and Anarky crash the party, hence, the title Red Hood vs. Anarky #1. Like he’s done with the other one-shots, Seeley finds the duality in Jason and Lonnie Machin aka Anarky. One is trying to please his adopted father Batman while the other is trying to please the Joker, who Lonnie’s single mother said was his dad to get him to shut up as a child. However, this neediness is buried beneath a rebellious and individualistic streak with Jason being the sole member of the Bat-family who regularly uses guns, and Anarky’s whole non-ideology ideology of creating chaos at every opportunity.

There is an agility and slight edgy grit to Fernandez and Petrus’ art style and Kalisz’s colors, but things never get too serious in Red Hood vs. Anarky #1 beginning with a member of Catwoman’s bachelorette saying that Nightwing is the hottest member of the Bat-family. Even though he doesn’t kill anyone (Or risk losing his 150K contract from Batman to watch out for Catwoman), there is a rugged choreography to Jason’s action scenes as he kicks the craps out of some white supremacist incels working for Anarky and dedicated to the cause of ending “male exploitation” aka strippers. Then, Seeley and Fernandez indulge in a little bit of horror when Jason threatens one of the incels with a knife, the man’s terrified face reflecting in his mask as he spins a tale of all the urban legends surrounding the Red Hood from the main villain of “Zero Year” to the proto-Joker and finally Jason’s own backstory. In a traditional superhero comic, this would be the actions of villain more than a hero, but Jason is an anti-hero facing some utter scumbags so the scene elicits some guilty fist pumping to go with the general freakiness.

Each one-shot in the Prelude to the Wedding series has had given its lead character a mini-arc in a high concept setting and concluded with a nice little epiphany like a bow on a gift wrapped present. The epiphanies haven’t been “earth shattering” reveals that lead to events and spinoff miniseries, but small moments of personal growth. For example, Jason goes from making an easy, quick buck by being the black ops guardian of Catwoman’s bachelorette party to containing the whole Anarky situation using compromise instead of all out violence so she can have a good time dancing at the old Goth club that was one of the few highlights of her sad and difficult upbringing. However, Jason hasn’t gone completely soft as evidenced by his actions towards Anarky at the end of the comic when Batman cancels his contract with him after he fails at remaining incognito around Catwoman. He’s more likely to shoot you in the head, er, kneecaps than hear a sob story about your daddy and/or mommy issues.

Surprising for a book co-starring a character named Anarky, Red Hood vs. Anarky #1 ends up being an argument for centrism and open dialogue in polarized times as evidenced by Jason’s ingenious solution of offering $300 to Anarky’s supporters’ cause if they stop fighting. But the dialogue where Bizarro (Kind of the Oracle of the Outlaws’ operation.) mentions pro-life and gun activists and anti-fascists and “militant feminists” as all sharing the some “anger” is kind of a head scratcher because that would mean Jason Todd would be donating money to the NRA and organizations that say Planned Parenthood sells baby parts. It’s a big moment for him that he stopped a mob with his words and not guns, but at what cost? Jason Todd is an opportunist and a bit of mercenary so it does make sense that he would hug the middle of the political spectrum so not as to offend any potential clients. Also, what is the boundary between being too extreme or kow-towing to immoral forces. Seeley brings up these questions between the ass kicking, one-liners, and bachelorette party/black ops mission fun.

With dashes of humor and character insights from Tim Seeley,  gorgeous costuming and fight choreography from Javier Fernandez and Hugo Petrus, and a glitzy, grimy, and just plain red color palette from John Kalisz, Red Hood vs. Anarky #1 is another successful Bat-family-centric one-shot in the run-up to Batman and Catwoman’s wedding. It even has some semi-controversial political commentary to boot.

Story: Tim Seeley Art: Javier Fernandez, Hugo Petrus
 Colors: John Kalisz Letters: Dave Sharpe
Story: 8.8 Art: 8 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Bloodstrike #0

Indie darling and Copra cartoonist Michel Fiffe helms the latest incarnation of Extreme Studios’ Bloodstrike in a comic that tells the origin story of the Rob Liefeld created team of reanimated super soldiers: Cabbot, Fourplay, Deadlock, Shogun, and Tag with fan favorite Chapel showing up in a backup story. Fiffe’s filtering of the early Image aesthetic through a Fantagraphics, art comic filter is quite enjoyable, and Bloodstrike #0’s pages have the feel of a labor of love fanzine instead of corporate product. Unfortunately, Fiffe’s story is utterly incomprehensible for anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the characters in Bloodstrike, and it ends being more like fanservice through an auteur lens than a bold, new beginning for the property.

Probably, the most enjoyment I got out of Bloodstrike was the similarity of the characters to various X-Men; it’s like Liefeld, and by extension, Fiffe weren’t even trying to hide it with bad guy-turned-kind of good guy Deadlock sporting Wolverine’s cowl and having the code name Patient 10 to Cabbot, the lantern jawed gun and pouch sporting team leader and Cable wannabe. This is probably the joke, but the personalities of the members of Bloodstrike seem interchangeable and differently designed action figures going on missions around the world for the good of American imperialism. (The comic is set in the hey day of the first Bush’s presidency and ends around the Gulf War.) They’re reanimated corpses so there’s no possibility of permadeath. By extension, there’s no one to really latch onto, and the time skips and jumps and introduction of other Image characters give the book a stop and start feel like vignettes stitched together. Thanks to Wikipedia, I did understand the cliffhanger ending, and it reminded me of what Mark Millar tried to do with Wolverine in Ultimate X-Men in making him a Brotherhood member and not the Captain America of Canada. So, cool with a “k”, I guess.

It’s kind of funny, but the character that stood out to me in Bloodstrike #0 wasn’t even member of Bloodstrike, but of Rob Liefeld’s flagship squad: Youngblood.  (Thank you Wikipedia, again.) Her name is Vogue, and she made some hilarious quips about costume aesthetics in the heat of battle in a nice bit of commentary on the whole style over substance trend of mainstream comics in the early 1990s where art came before story. And it comes back full circle in Bloodstrike #0 where Michel Fiffe constructs balls to the wall, paramilitary action scenes with neck biting, diagonal panels, and a red “bleed out” effect on his background colors, but doesn’t give readers a reason to care about the characters. Honestly, this is a cast of characters and conceit that could use the minimalist action plotting of The Raid or Dredd, but with more of a team dynamic than the Frankenstein’s Monster of continuity and heavy artillery fire that was Bloodstrike #0.

Maybe, if you’re more knowledgeable about the Image Comics creations of Rob Liefeld and Extreme Studios in general, Michel Fiffe’s Bloodstrike #0 will tickle your nostalgia fancy and filter the excess of the 1990s in a stylish new way. This is definitely not new reader friendly, but it’s worth flipping through to check out Fiffe’s unique art and metamorphic color palette. From the backmatter and care that Fiffe takes at replicating the original costumes, Bloodstrike #0 seems like a passion project, but unfortunately that passion is hard to transfer through this story.

Story: Michel Fiffe Art: Michel Fiffe
Story: 3.0 Art: 8.5 Overall: 4.8 Recommendation: Pass 

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Magic Order #1

After all the marketing pizzazz, including the fact that this comic will only have one printing, Mark Millar, Olivier Coipel, and Dave Stewart‘s The Magic Order #1 is here, and it’s the first Millarworld comic book under the imprint’s new deal with Netflix. The book could be described as Harry Potter with the intrigue of Kingsman and the family dynamic of Jupiter’s Legacy. Basically, sub out spy gadgets and superheroes for wands and magic, and you’ve got The Magic Order. Millar and Coipel also play off King Lear a little bit in the names of the main cast: stage magician Leonard Moonstone and his children Regan, Cordelia, and Gabriel, who all have varying attitudes to their destiny as magical guardians of the universe

Narrative-wise, Millar and Coipel do a lot of things right in The Magic Order #1, including a gripping and violent five page opener that twists the famous scene in Harry Potter where Lord Voldemort kills Harry’s parents in front of him by having the evil wizards use a man’s son to kill him in front of his wife after having sex one last time. So, yeah, it’s the typical Millarworld sex and violence spiel. However, it shows that this story isn’t going to be about the wonder, but its horror. This is reflected on later when Regan recruits his reluctant brother Gabriel to fight against the Bellatrix Lestrange-esque Madame Albany, and Gabriel refuses while having a flashback about his daughter dying because of magic. Stewart juxtaposes a golden, angelic color palette of her wanting to be a member of the Magic Order like her father with grey shadow as he weeps at her grave. Millar and Coipel wisely restrain their more ultraviolent impulses and nail his feelings of loss in one stark image.

Gabriel is definitely the most emotionally resonant character in The Magic Order #1. He’s very much a normal dude, who wants to get away from the trappings of magic and war because of the cost it’s taken on him, his family, and friends. In his introductory, Coipel zooms on paper towels to emphasize the regular nature of his life compared to his showier brother Regan, who talks to him while levitating in some kind of invisible cloud bubble instead of walking the aisles and chatting like a human. We also get to see the threats that the Magic Order protects humanity from through young Gabriel’s eyes, and he’s total frightened as his dad and other members of the Order fight these gigantic beings of cosmic horror, and Coipel shows that he can do action, day to day conversation, and throw in some Mignola monsters for good measure.

If Gabriel goes straight to the heart, Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel make Cordelia  the thrill seeker of the bunch. Her grand introduction is in the back of police car with plenty of snarky and foul mouthed anecdotes about why she’s in trouble, and then she just flat out vanishes. Coipel gets to do a little physical humor through the cops’ reaction and the car skidding down the road while a single pair of handcuffs just chills for a second. Cordelia is all id and decadence, and Coipel and Stewart wreathe her shadow just like Madame Albany. But, her dad wears a black tuxedo and top hat so this might just be conjecture.

Sadly, in contrast with his more interesting siblings, Regan doesn’t get much to do other than be a conversation partner and into magic. But Millar nails the personalities of three of the four leads and establishes a quite powerful threat in the first issue so it’s not so bad. He and Coipel are creative with some the dark magical spells beginning with the child hitmen and ending with a riff on shapeshifting and mind wiping that lets Coipel go a little Dadaist and take a break from clean lines for a bit. It’s a real treat seeing Millar cut Coipel loose and draw a variety of scenes instead of the standard talking heads and splash pages of superhero fare with Dave Stewart setting the mood through his color palettes.

With a blockbuster opening sequence, a couple interesting lead characters, and masterful visuals from Olivier Coipel and Dave Stewart, The Magic Order #1 is the start of a beautiful partnership between Mark Millar and Netflix and a nice sop to those who have grown a bit cynical towards adults whose only reading is the adventures of a boy wizard…

Story: Mark Millar Art: Olivier Coipel
Colors: Dave Stewart Letters: Peter Doherty

Story: 7.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy 

Image Comics/Millarworld/Netflix provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Man of Steel #3

While the previous issue focused on Clark Kent’s relationship to his co-workers at the Daily Planet, Brian Michael Bendis makes Man of Steel # about Kal-El’s connection to his Kryptonian heritage beginning with a tragic, nearly silent opening sequence drawn by Ryan Sook and Alex Sinclair of Rogol-Zaar wrecking the Fortress of Solitude, including the Bottle City of Kandor making its first substantial appearance in the DC Rebirth era. There’s also a Batman cameo that goes nowhere (Except for inspiring Superman to think more like a detective.), and the shadowy Jay Fabok drawn figure slowly emerges from the shadows in the Clark and Jon flashback. So, like most of this miniseries so far, it’s a visually stunning mixed bag as Bendis and Sook finally catch up to the story in Action Comics #1000 timeline-wise.

Man of Steel has been a mini filled with great artists like Ivan Reis, Jay Fabok, Evan Shaner, and Steve Rude, but Ryan Sook proves that he has the best storytelling chops of the bunch. He is equally adept at big, bombastic moments like Rogol-Zaar crashing into Earth’s orbit and the smaller, human ones like Superman politely waving to Melody while he and Batman investigate another arson in Metropolis, or Supergirl comforting her cousin while he mourns the lost Kryptonians of Kandor. The pages where Superman and Supergirl are in the Fortress is a master class in emotional progression that starts by the cousins walking around their Arctic shelter and surveying the damage before bursting into pure anguish when they see the destroyed Bottle and then flight. Then, in another double page spread, Superman uses his flight, super hearing, and X-Ray vision to check on his apartment, co-workers, and then focus on the thread at hand. Hey, Batman isn’t the only one with “detective vision”. And Sook’s few pages of action really pack a wallop with yellows and reds from Sinclair showing that Rogol Zaar packs a real physical threat to Superman.

Brian Michael Bendis’ use of Supergirl and Batman in Man of Steel #3 is a very quick study is how and how not to use guest stars in a comic book. First of all, their appearances both make logical sense. Batman is helping Superman investigate a mystery that is bothering, namely, how are all these fires happening under his practically omniscient and omnipresent nose? Because she is Kryptonian, Supergirl can hear the unique frequency of the Fortress of Solitude’s alarm and quickly sees if the place that is the last sanctuary and repository of her home culture is under attack. However, with Batman, it seems like Bendis is just checking off writing DC’s other big hero instead of using him in a meaningful way. Of course, his first line of dialogue is “I’m Batman” to slightly freaked out/fangirling Melody Moore, and then he spouts off something about patterns and something respectful about Superman because that’s the kind of relationship Bendis lets them have, which is cool. But Batman doesn’t add a set of fresh eyes to any of Man of Steel’s mysteries, including the arson, and definitely not the missing Lois and Jon one. In fact, Superman comes off as the better detective as he quickly finds and engages Rogol-Zaar after cutting a swath of destruction through the Fortress.

On the other hand, Supergirl’s guest turn adds more layers of emotional poignancy to the destruction of the Bottle City of Kandor, a place that Kara may have even remembered visiting, because she came to Earth much older than Kal-El. Her appearance in Action Comics #1000 isn’t just a random cameo, but as a friend, family member, and Kryptonian fighting against an enemy that wants to obliterate all remnants of her and Kal’s culture. Bendis and Sook lean into the Kryptonians as immigrant metaphor with the items in the Fortress of Solitude representing memories and heritage of the homeland. Even if he barely speaks in this issue and is still mostly a one dimensional force of destruction and genocide,  Bendis and Sook position Rogol-Zaar as an anti-immigrant villain. To go along with this, Kara even gets a great action moment swooping up a faltering Superman with some Sook speed lines and delivering a one-liner before the brawl begins. Rogol-Zaar thought he had to fight one last of son of Krypton, but there’s a last daughter too.

The mystery parts of Man of Steel #3 barely progress (I have a fairly obvious theory about who the mysterious attacker is in the Lois and Jon flashbacks.), but Brian Michael Bendis and Ryan Sook hit a strong emotional beat with Superman and Supergirl’s reactions to the destruction of the Fortress of Solitude and the Bottle City of Kandor. Rogol-Zaar’s motivation is wholly tied to Krypton so this is line with his character and shows that Bendis understands Superman’s alien and human heritage. A pity that the Batman subplot went nowhere.

Story: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Ryan Sook, Jay Fabok Inks: Wade von Grawbadger
 Colors: Alex Sinclair Letters: Josh Reed
Story: 6.8 Art: 9.2 Overall: 7.7 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Dazzler X-Song #1

In the one-shot Dazzler X-Song #1, writer Magdalene Visaggio, artist Laura Braga, and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg deliver a powerful story about facing down hate and bigotry using the power of music (and cool light shows) just in time for Pride Month. (I seriously wish that Alison Blaire’s new band Lightbringr was playing my local Pride festival.) They use the “rivalry” between mutants and Inhumans that has been simmering in stories like Death of X, Inhumans vs. X-Men, and even in the recent Secret Warriors series as a metaphor for intersectionality in marginalized communities adding layers to the frankly, quite old mutant=minority. And, along the way, Braga and Rosenberg craft hip, energetic visuals and an explosive color palette worthy of the disco Dazzler even though she’s going by Alison these days and doesn’t really want to be a superhero or X-Man for now despite Colossus begging her to join the new look team.

Visaggio and Braga kick off the book with a beautiful establishing page: a four panel entry into the world of Alison and her bandmate Farley setting up for their show; an Inhuman Nora, who has similar powers to Dazzler, and her pal Zee getting ready for the Lightbringr gig, and a member of the Mutant Action ready to get his hate on. Dazzler X-Song #1 has plenty of stylized music video touches, especially in Rosenberg’s colors when the crowd at Alison’s show is overwhelmed by pink, but the narrative is fairly grounded in overcoming  hatred through the power of music. Alison wants the “others” of the Marvel Universe to enjoy their music and have an opportunity to be themselves for one amazing night. But, sadly, like the “no fats, no femmes”, white gay men on dating apps (and sometimes at the club), some folks just wanted to be bigoted and not share the love and enjoy the scene.

One interesting part of Dazzler #1 is Magdalene Visaggio and Laura Braga’s nuanced approach to violence. Many X-Men comics are known for their big, pitched battles to show off the various mutants’ cool powers, but Alison only fights when it’s necessary. Thanks to a sobering tip from Nora after a show, she is aware that the Mutant Action members are at her show and staves them off with a no violence tolerated policy and focusing on the music and de-escalation. In the long run, this doesn’t work, and the Mutant Action starting act worse and even bring power dampeners to gigs so they can assault Inhumans. Seeing a helpless Nora causes Alison to return into action in a a powerful splash page from Braga where you can see the Mutant Action member’s cheek wobble as she decks him Richard Spencer style with Rosenberg adding pink speed lines. Maybe, Alison isn’t ready to put on a spandex costume yet, but she has a good heart and cares about protecting people, who are discriminated against. And her fans end up giving her an assist in the big climax where their vocals amplify her light abilities, and Alison scares away Mutant Action once and for all.

What makes Dazzler #1 refreshing is that Magdalene Visaggio and Laura Braga gives readers a mutant/Inhuman perspective on the Marvel Universe in a way that doesn’t involve folks wanting to be superheroes in a similar manner to the late, great Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat. Nora doesn’t want to beat up supervillains; she wants to use her light abilities to make the dance floor an even more epic place. However, when threatened by mutant bigotry (In a great metaphor for white members of the LGBTQ community being racist towards people of color.), she confronts it directly without getting all superhero clubhouse about it, and Dazzler does the same and even makes a big speech about how mutants and Inhumans can stand together and be powerful without being a part of a superhero team. Their abilities might be fantastic, but they can find community in a way that doesn’t involve costumes, codenames, and Danger Room training.

Dazzler X-Song #1 light show visuals from Laura Braga and Rachelle Rosenberg that perfectly fit a book starring Alison Blaire and a strong message of pride and intersectionality from Magdalene Visaggio. It shows that cool mutant/Inhuman powers, social commentary, characters arc, and sassy humor can co-exist in one great comic book. Now, I need a follow up comic where Alison meets Karen O…

Story: Magdalene Visaggio Art: Laura Braga
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg Letters: Joe Sabino
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.3 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Unexpected #1

Spinning out of The Dark Nights: Metal, The Unexpected #1 features obscure DC Comics heroes and villains, multiversal threats, exploding innards, and lots of violence. Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and Steve Orlando start the story out strong by telling the origin of the new Firebrand, Janet Fals, who was a paramedic that was experimented on and given the Conflict Engine. Thanks to the Conflict Engine, she must fight every 24 hours, or she will die. It’s a cool concept and connects well to Janet’s character because she wants to help and heal people, not beat them up. However, this origin is derailed by interesting a flurry of new characters, who are then mostly killed off in the middle of the story. Luckily, Sook, Nord, and Orlando cast an almost saving throw with a theatrical villain, who may not be the biggest fish in the pond, er, dark multiverse.

By the time it finds its footing, The Unexpected strikes a balance between Doom Patrol and Suicide Squad with Greg Capullo inspired artwork as a garnish. Getting Batman colorist FCO Plascencia to go full heavy metal garish with his palette helps with this last bit, and inkers Mick Gray and Wade von Grawbadger help with the clarity of storytelling and some of the details on character designs and costumes. Sook and Nord do make a few poor blocking choices like awkward cuts being long and close up when Firebrand meets her possible girlfriend, Joy, at the hospital. Orlando’s dialogue is fun and flirty, but there is no chemistry in their body language or facial expressions. Sook and Nord also cut away from the death scenes of the two redshirt members of The Unexpected lessening the impact of a sequence that barely registers because we barely know who Viking Judge and Elligh are besides that they have cool, magic fighting things and were introduced in other comics. Subpar storytelling aside, Sook and Nord’s art styles have a kind of 1990s loose cannon, anarchic energy with better anatomy while keeping a sense of bloodthirstiness.

The Unexpected”s main issue is that Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and Steve Orlando are unsure if it is a solo, team, or buddy book and tries out all three takes to varying success. Even if Firebrand is a relatively obscure DC hero (Janet is the 5th iteration), she has a fairly compelling origin story as an ordinary human, who tries to help people in the midst of multiple apocalypses and sci-fi experimentation. She is a fugitive from scary organizations and folks, but still works as a pro bono paramedic for the good of her conscience. Plus she’s snarky as hell, isn’t the greatest at relationships, and Sook and Nord get a real kick out of drawing her no holds barred brawls even though she is constantly trying to avoid collateral damage. This is a seed of a great story that immediately gets sidelined when the lineup of The Unexpected shows up and starts rattling cages. All three members spout exposition about their backstories and various MacGuffins while the reptilian cowboy Bad Samaritan kicks their asses. He meets his end in the issue too, but has more personality than the not so golden trio combined. At least, Neon the Unknown has the whole mystery mage vibe going for him as Orlando sets up a possible sage mentor/violent newbie dynamic for them going forward.

The Unexpected #1 is a bonkers journey into the weirder side of The Dark Nights Metal and has a potential breakout character in Firebrand plus some cool double page spreads from Ryan Sook and Cary Nord and a crackling color palette from FCO Plascencia. However, it sidelines its momentum to turn into a failed attempt at a Doom Patrol/Challengers of the Unknown time team book until someone remembered that DC was already publishing these books and course corrects into a not so dynamic duo taking on very high level threat book. The Unexpected #1 is a mixed bag of a comic, but the series itself has potential mostly thanks to Steve Orlando’s three dimensional writing of Firebrand.

Storytellers: Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, and Steve Orlando Inks: Mick Gray and Wade von Grawbadger
 Colors: FCO Plascencia Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Story: 6.5 Art: 7 Overall: 6.8 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Man of Steel #2

In a wise move, Brian Michael Bendis pivots from focusing on Rogol Zaar, the villain of the Man of the Steel to the even juicier mystery: where is Lois Lane (and Jon Kent)? Most of Man of Steel #2, and the man who wrote an ongoing series based on the investigative reporting branch of The Daily Bugle (RIP The Pulse) is in his element writing Sorkin-esque speeches from Perry White about truth and journalism between his frustration with Jimmy Olsen or juicy newsroom gossip. And he’s helped by some fantastic art from Doc Shaner, Jay Fabok, and Steve Rude, who brings an old school flair to the second half of the comic and turns in possibly the best Perry White page yet.

If anything, Man of Steel has been a showcase for some fantastic artwork, and we get the one-two punch of Shaner and Rude in issue two. After an overly edgy prologue where two fellows named Lord Gandelo and Appa Ali Apsa do some literal damage control on Krypton, Shaner demonstrates why he’s one of the most wholesome artists in the business as Superman dismantles one of Toyman’s robots and smiles when Hal Jordan makes a surprise cameo. (Alex Sinclair is a master at coloring intense, intergalactic situations though.) There’s a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to Superman taking out the wannabe Gundam and providing notes on Toyman’s less than stellar villainous banter game, and Shaner systematically shows each big moment with a clear use of angles and perspective. But, then, Superman rebuffs a “check-in” with Hal and flies into red and yellow watercolors showcasing his speed and desire to save as many people as possible.

Even though it’s not integral to the overarching mystery of Man of Steel , the moment where Superman brushes off Hal is probably Bendis, Shaner, and Rude’s best work in the comic. First, even Superman needs someone to ask him how’s he doing, and it was cool to see Bendis include that in the hullabaloo of a supervillain battle. But, then he flies off back to the Planet so he can quickly file his story as Clark Kent. Having a secret identity isn’t great for social graces or responsibilities, and Superman that it’s easier for him to rebuff niceties in costume than in his civilian guise. As Superman, he’s an icon and constantly on call so it’s easy for him to get back to saving the world and not behave like a human being/good friend. It’s kind of like the Pope, the pre-2016 President of the United States, or any highly visible public figure not having time to grab a beer or catch up with an old college roommate because they have to board a plane or somewhere or have a briefing. This is contrast with the more approachable and harried Clark Kent, who would probably get called an asshole for pulling that stunt so he leaves that move for Superman.

This great moment is bookended by some not so great ones like Rogol Zaar finally arriving in Metropolis after being teased months ago in Action Comics #1000 as the cliffhanger ending and yet another blinding light moment of vagueness from Bendis and Fabok featuring Lois and Jon’s whereabouts that plays like a rerun of the ending of Man of Steel #1. Even at DC, Bendis’ plots still work better at a trade paperback versus single issue level, but this is offset by the energy he brings to the Daily Planet. I’ve really only mentioned Shaner and Rude’s skill at action and showing Superman’s power and heart, but they also draw the hell out of a bustling newsroom crowd sequence along with gestures and facial expressions that give a little extra “oomph” to their sparring about publishing an article on Lois Lane going MIA and the conflict between being a hard hitting journalistic institution and a gossip rag. Because unlike his Marvel Comics newspaper editor counterpart, Perry White actually gives a damn about truth, justice, and all that stuff, and it comes across in his passion and frustration about the current state of the Planet.

Bendis has yet to hit a home run at DC Comics, but Man of Steel #2 is a solid base hit that continues to look at how Superman/Clark Kent feel about the world around them and their relationships while digging a little bit more into the Lois Lane mystery on both an earthbound and intergalactic level. Also, the Daily Planet has never felt so vibrant, and Doc Shaner seriously needs to draw a Superman/Green Lantern team-up miniseries.

Story: Brian Michael Bendis Art: Doc Shaner, Steve Rude Jay Fabok
 Colors: Alex Sinclair Letters: Josh Reed
Story: 7 Art: 9 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Justice League #1

Dark Nights Metal and Justice League: No Justice were just the first steps in Scott Snyder’s quest to tell a DC multiverse spanning story starring some of its most underrated characters, and in Justice League #1, some of its heaviest hitters. And in his love of bonkers concepts at the expense of clear storytelling, he’s becoming a lot like Grant Morrison, for better or worse. However, he and artists Jim Cheung, Mark Morales, and Tomeu Morey find a way to a bring back the Timmverse era Justice League lineup as well as assemble the Legion of Doom for the first time in comics and successfully please two generations of JL fans. But can nostalgia overcome a loud, sometimes disjointed plot that spends most of its time talking about a big threat? Justice League falls somewhere in the middle of maybe it can, maybe it can’t.

After a cameo filled opening page, Snyder and Cheung jump right into some double page spreads, wide screen heroics as each Justice League “member” leads a small task force to fight different types of “Neoanderthals” as Vandal Savage tries to take over the universe again. Cheung’s figures are dynamic and powerful with the help of superstar inker Morales, but his fights are cluttered and not blocked well. In fact, scenes where characters are talking around a table or are drawn in heroic poses by themselves (i.e. John Stewart packing construct heat.) have more of an impact than the group fight scenes, which is a definite weakness for an artist on a book where readers expect a big pitched, superhero fight every issue or so.

However, Snyder saves these underwhelming sequences that kick off Justice League #1 with a sense of humor and nigh perfect use of Martian Manhunter as team leader, POV character, and comedic straight man riding off his excellent work with the character in No Justice. The Justice League spends the opening battle basically roasting Batman while J’onn dryly riffs off their dialogue and keeps them on task while remaining aware of the big picture because his home planet Mars was destroyed because his people decided to shut off their literal connection with each other. Even if he’s been away for a while and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, the Martian Manhunter has the temperament and power set to unite the world’s greatest heroes to stop some quite otherworldly threats. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty and take some small setbacks if it keeps his adopted home world safe and contributes to a greater plan. Also, Jim Cheung does a great job showing J’onn’s steady, yet sad demeanor and even gets to cut loose a little bit and show him shapeshift into a dragon.

Through the aforementioned cold open and a pretty nifty sequence where they meet a table like the one in the old Silver Age Justice League of America comics, Scott Snyder and Jim Cheung do a decent job establishing the the heroes of Justice League #1. They drop the ball with the villains and the introduction of the Legion of Doom, especially Lex Luthor, who has gone from a complex figure in Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics run and even No Justice to a mustache twirling, “for the evulz” baddie. When he makes his first play for the Legion, Snyder and Cheung throw any kind of interesting characterization out the window other than making Lex do cool and “badass” things like dropping a bunch of Neanderthals through a trap door, for example. These things do have consequences, and hopefully, Snyder gets a handle on these villains’ voices and motivations so they don’t play second fiddle to symbols and MacGuffins. Obviously, he has the Joker down.

Scott Snyder and Jim Cheung are talented creators, and they have their pick of the litter cast-wise: both heroes and villains. Justice League #1 works when the multiverse shattering stakes have a personal dimension too aka every time Martian Manhunter is involved, but mostly, it seems like it might collapse under the weight of these stakes and its forgettable action scenes.

Story: Scott Snyder Pencils: Jim Cheung
Inks: Mark Morales Colors: Tomeu Morey Letters: Tom Napolitano
Story: 6.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Lando: Double Or Nothing #1

Lando Calrissian is a smooth talking, cape wearing con man with impeccable fashion sense and maybe too much weakness for gambling. He was also recently played by Donald Glover in Solo: A Star Wars Storyand the younger version of the character is the star of the miniseries Lando: Double or Nothing #1 from Rodney Barnes, Paolo Villanelli, and Andres Mossa. The story is an extended negotiation between Lando, who just wants some extra credits to turn the Millennium Falcon into a space casino, and Kristiss, who wants him to use his vaunted smuggling abilities to help her people, the Petrusians, rebel against the Empire. She promises him to pay him too because Lando isn’t super altruistic.

On a pure craft level, Lando #1 is a success. Barnes sharply recreates the voices of both Lando and his socially conscious, snarky droid co-pilot L3, and Villanelli is at ease drawing Lando’s smile and body language as he comes to grips with Kristiss’ offer and tries to play it cool. Likewise, Villanelli is also in his element depicting highly rendered space battles and chase because, of course, the Falcon runs into some Imperial TIE Fighters pretty early on. His style is a happy medium between the cartooning of IDW’s Star Wars Adventures and the photorealism (And possibly tracing.) of Salvador Larroca’s work on Darth Vader and Star Wars. To complete the visual package, Mossa lays down a smooth color palette to show the bright light of the club, the classy interior of the Falcon, and energy coursing through space when Lando and company go on the run.

Lando #1 trades celibate, imperialist mysticism and trade disputes for flirting, fast spaceships, and cluttered interior spaces. Sure, this is a first issue so Rodney Barnes has to quickly get readers up to snuff on the whole Perusian situation via exposition, but Kristiss isn’t a helpless innocent and plays Lando at his game plying him with drinks, deals involving money, and maybe even a kiss. They have pretty decent chemistry, and Barnes mines a lot of humor from L3 commenting on Lando trying to be a smooth operator with a pop of yellow shirt. Whenever Lando thinks he’s legendary or has some general sense of swagger, she is there to cut him down to size with a sharp remark. Humor is really the engine that keeps this comic running at this point.

Lando: Double or Nothing #1 is a great comic to pick up after watching Solo and (and hopefully) wishing that maybe Lando and L3 deserved a little more screen time. Paolo Villanelli and Andres Mossa turn in a spectacular chase sequence, and hopefully, they and Rodney Barnes can continue to add some fun wrinkles to the opportunism versus altruism conflict that has defined Lando as a character since he mispronounced Han Solo’s name for the first time back in 1980.

Story: Rodney Barnes Art: Paolo Villanelli Colors: Andres Mossa Letters: Joe Caramagna
Story: 7.8 Art: 8.2 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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