X-Men Schism #3


[Marvel Comics, 9]

Jeffery Simpson:
One of the storytelling issues with Civil War was that the split between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers seemed to happen too fast, and the lines seemed more drawn up by Marvel editorial than the story itself.  Though X-Men Schism is telling a very similar story, the fracturing of the partnership between Wolverine and Cyclops, the fact that Jason Aaron is taking his time in building the tension between the pair is going to make that eventual split that much more believable.  My only complaint is that the main threat, a group of hyper-intelligent children, is fairly slightly too similar to Eziekel Stane from Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man run for my taste.
[10]

Jeff Stolarcyk:
Schism is what I always wanted Civil War to be: an organic breaking point built on the shoulders of years of storytelling. This is the issue where Cyclops and Wolverine finally come to loggerheads and it’s an earned conflict. Even better – there’s no clear ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ like there was in Civil War. This issue also fleshes out the new Hellfire Club a bit more, and they are joyously creepy. Schism is Jason Aaron firing on all cylinders with an all-star art team and that is basically a must-read.
[8]

Chris Walsh:
First of all, everything with Idie in this issue crushed me. Crushed. Me. And then Generation Hope followed it up and destroyed me utterly. Oof. Whew. Ahem, OK. Now, as to the meat of the goings-on in the issue and especially the tension this builds between Scott and Logan: very well-played, Mr. Aaron. I’m totally buying into this schism. Logan concern for the innocence of those who still have it is a good contrast with his violent tendencies and rough edges and seems to fit well with what I’ve seen of Logan and his mentoring of all his girls. And Scott, whew. Like many seem to be, I’m not a huge Scott fan, but I don’t dislike him either; he’s just generally a bit too dull to inspire much interest. But, what’s been building with him as the leader of the mutants, trying to do what’s right and trying to protect his people, and how that’s clashing with other considerations like how his people themselves are impacted by his decisions. I just keep seeing that Fear Itself ad with Scott dressed like Magneto. It’s all bubbling up, and I’m absolutely hooked to find out just how it explodes.
[9]

Invincible Iron Man #507


[Marvel Comics, 6]

Caroline Pruett:
The previous issue of Invincible Iron Man, in which Tony Stark fell off the wagon and into an Asgardian dwarf’s quasi-magical workshop, was as strong an outing as this Fraction/Larroca book has seen in a while. Writing about an alcoholic’s relapse without falling into cliche is tricky, and moving the action to a magical/absurd context helped this audacious character beat feel fresh. Issue 507, unfortunately, is too more-of-the-same, and it turns out a little bit of carousing-with-dwarfs goes a long way. Otherwise, this is a serviceable event tie-in, Fraction’s character work is typically strong, and the Pepper Potts/Sasha Hammer mecha fight is good fun. Still, the issue doesn’t advance the story much, and the resolutely boring artwork of penciller Larroca and colorist Frank D’Armata does Fraction’s script no favors.
[5]

Jeffery Simpson:
Back from Paris and now in Asgard designing weapons, as seen in Fear Itself, Tony Stark shares the focus of this issue with Pepper Potts who has headed back into the city that Tony has fled, meeting up with Sasha Hammer and a team of Hammer Industries armored soldiers.  At this point I’m starting to get Fear Itself fatigue, and it would have been nice to see the characters in some other context than moving at the edges of the big event.
[6]

Jeff Stolarcyk:
I consistently love Iron Man, and think that the character work being done with Tony in Asgard is compelling, but the book feels uneven with its switching back and forth between Asgard and Earth. And there are more dwarves, too. All told, though, your mileage on this book is going to be directly related to your attitude on the loss of Tony’s sobriety. As a result, this is going to be a divisive one.
[6.5]

Solo Review: DC Retroactive 1990’s: Batman #1


[DC Comics, 8]

Matt Springer:
The worst I can say about this one-shot, an installment in DC’s series paying tribute to various eras and creative teams for their most popular characters? It’s too expensive. Chop out the pointless reprint and charge me $2.99, and it’s about the perfect superhero comic book. Don’t most of the people who will buy this already have the reprint in their longboxes anyway? Story-wise, if you’re like me and have fond memories of the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle run on Batman from the early nineties, you will get a big kick out of this story. It reunites the creative team with one of their best creations, the villainous Ventriloquist and his mystical dummy, Scarface. It stirs in a bit of the fantastic with a dead mobster zombie resurrected by radioactive waste, and Grant probably approaches the tenuous philosophical underpinning of his story from too great a height. Any Batman comic book that features the caption “What is life?” on its second page might be gettin’ a bit above its raisin’. But as a kid who cut his comics teeth on these very Grant/Breyfogle books, it was a treat to return to that era. Let’s see more, DC.
[8]

Thunderbolts #162


[Marvel Comics, 7.5]

Jeffery Simpson:
While the cast of the book has gotten too big to keep track of, it’s still an incredibly fun read.  The core characters are delightful, particularly the rather weird relationship between Moonstone and Man Thing.  The art, and the influx of new characters that have joined the book in recent issues make it a bit hard to follow who beyond the original cast of Jeff Parker’s run, is doing what.  There’s a conspiracy going on, but I’m not quite sure whose involved or what they’re hoping to achieve.  Still there’s enough awesomeness going on to keep me interested including a Giant Size Man-Thing.
[8]

Jeff Stolarcyk:
This issue is all about Jeff Parker playing the long game. He’s taking plots from various points in his run and smashing them into one another in the most inconvenient way possible. And it’s consistently fun, which is a feat. And as a bonus, we get a splash-page-sized joke that Parker has to have been sitting on for the better part of a year.
[7]

Chris Walsh:
I’m not sure what it says about me that Thunderbolts and Secret Six are two of my favorite comics from Marvel and DC — but I don’t think I’m alone in my love of these anti-hero books. I don’t know, maybe now that I’m older, there’s something about actual bad guys being bad (or maybe even trying to be good) as opposed to good guys being bad, since, let’s face it, how the Thunderbolts act and how a lot of “heroes” act in superhero books isn’t always that different. With youthful rebelliousness behind me, I may be more drawn to stories about evil striving to be good than about good constantly faltering into evil. Hmm. Well, more specific to this issue, while the reptile critter storyline isn’t doing much for me, the machinations of the various Thunderbolts always makes for a good read and the whole subplot with the Man-Thing and Satanna has me intrigued.
[8]

Avengers #16


[Marvel Comics, 5]

Caroline Pruett:
I’ve been liking these interview-style tie-ins to ‘Fear Itself’, and the idea of Steve Rogers storming a mystical castle with three female superspies (or, well, two superspies and a former SHIELD accountant) is right up my alley. This issue doesn’t quite click, though. The introductory discussion of how Steve Rogers embodies the spirit of the country comes across as silly and forced. (“Deep in the space between his molecules. . .he is America,” says Clint Barton. CLINT BARTON?) The issue is oddly paced, and John Romita, Jr.’s art, with its assortment of indistinguishable faces, isn’t well-served by a bunch of talking heads. There are a couple of great, almost wordless, pages where Steve and Sharon Carter storm a castle by surfing on his shield, and some good emotional notes about Steve’s grief for Bucky.  Overall, though, this is one of the weaker Avengers tie-ins to this event, though that’s still a pretty high standard.
[6]

Jeffery Simpson:
For the most part the best parts of Fear Itself have been the tie-in books that have danced at the edges of the real action.  In particular Bendis’ twin Avengers titles seem to have been assigned the task of trying to bring some actual character development to the proceedings.  Here Victoria Hand, Maria Hill and Sharon Carter join the still pre-Captain America Steve Rogers on a mission to Sweden that will help them defeat Sin.  Or at least that’s the plan, but of course Fear Itself’s big bad isn’t about to be beaten down in a side book.  All in all it’s an interesting detour from the main event.
[6]

Chris Walsh:
I’m so confused by this story. When is this supposed to be happening? In the main Fear Itself story, it seems like a very short gap between Bucky getting killed and Steve wearing the costume again and fighting with Sin, so… when did Steve find time to go to Sweden? Also, I like reading about the Avengers team and I dropped Secret Avengers a couple of issues in, so this issue also doesn’t click with me for basically being a SA story stuck under an Avengers cover. (Also, while I’m being snippy, I don’t just don’t get how Cap’s shield is supposed to work. It absorbs impacts, but it also ricochets AND lets him just … bounce? Wha?)
[4]

Solo Review: Zatanna #16


[DC Comics, 6]

Jeffery Simpson:
As Zatanna prepares to join the Justice League Dark as a kind of punky biker chick, it’s time to say goodbye to her short-lived solo series.  Having launched with Paul Dini as the writer, it ends with Adam Beechen.  Though he’s no Dini, Beechen has done a good job of finding things for Zatanna to do.  The book however has suffered from a lack of convincing, or even interesting villains, and this issue is no different. It’s good when it’s focusing on the various aspects of Zatanna’s life, and the ways that she utilizes her powers on a day-to-day basis. Granted this is a last issue, and probably not a planned one, but I’d like to see a better send-off for one of DC’s most interesting characters.
[6]

Captain America #2


[Marvel Comics, 8.0]

Caroline Pruett:
I’m not sure why this title exists, although if the answer is, “So Steve McNiven can draw Steve Rogers’ strong jawline and windblown hair,” I’m not going to complain. I won’t lie — I wasn’t too sure what was going on in this issue. I get that the antagonist messes around with people’s dreams, and I get that it has to do with someone Cap knew in the war. The boundary between dream, flashback, and present action isn’t clearly delineated, and the exposition we get doesn’t help much. Still, this is a damn nice-looking comic, and a Brubaker-written Cap book is a good bet in the long run.
[7]

Jeffery Simpson:
I was doubtful that rebooting Captain America and splitting it into two titles was going to prove to be a good idea. Ed Brubaker’s been writing Cap for so long it’s surprising that he has enough stories to suddenly start putting out two books a month. Set in the present day Captain America seems to be the more superhero focused of the two, engaging Brubaker’s more science-fiction side that doesn’t get a chance to show itself that often since he stopped writing Uncanny X-Men. The art by Steve McNiven is fantastic, some of the best of his career which is saying quite a bit.
[9]

Jeff Stolarcyk:
Like Waid’s Daredevil, this new run of Cap is a welcome tonal shift for the character – I love all of Brubaker’s previous run on the book, but it’s nice to see the dark realism of the prior volume traded in for Hydra super-science and dream dimensions. Very hard to find fault with, especially with Steve McNiven drawing it.
[8]

Batman and Robin #26


[DC Comics, 7.8]

Jason Urbanciz:
A mysterious villain in France has sprung three of the most horrible super-criminals from the Parisian Arkham and Nightrunner calls in Batman & Robin to help him round them up, as they go nuts in The Louvre. Writer David Hine comes up with some good, new villains that help fill out Nightrunner’s rogue’s gallery and it’s a pretty fun romp but it feels a little rushed and it’s too bad “The French Batman” doesn’t play a bigger role in an adventure on his home turf. Greg Tocchini & Andrei Bressan pinch in on art, and while their work is good, I would have loved to see this issue illustrated by someone with a more detailed style (like cover artist Chris Burnham).  Still a good, done-in-one Batman comic, but it’s obviously a placeholder for the changes coming next month.
[6]

Matt Springer:
It’s an interesting time to be a DC fan; while everyone awaits the launch of September’s 52 first issues, the existing titles shuffle along as lame ducks. Some are wrapping up storylines while others are ticking away the issues with fill-in creative teams, which is absolutely not a bad thing. This final issue of the first incarnation of Batman & Robin gives us a done-in-one by writer David Hine and artist Greg Tocchini that attempts to cram a lot of dada surrealism into 22 pages. It’s a striking, bold effort that falls a bit short; Hine’s script is dense and rewards multiple readings, but Tocchini’s pencils aren’t ideal for the story he’s telling. There’s some nice bold panels but I think the surreality of the piece would have been better served by more detailed backgrounds, especially when we’re watching a pulsating mass of brainwashed strangers attack the Dynamic Duo and their Paris counterpart, Nightrunner. Still, the ambition of the thing and the moments that do go right are well worth the price of admission–I don’t want to spoil the story’s conclusion except to say that Hine and Tocchini sync up to deliver several solid dada punches that land straight in the brainpan. It’s a great single issue especially if you’re someone who likes to dip into the occasional Bat-pool but don’t follow the ongoing Bat-saga closely…or if you like your superheroes with a side order of Dadaism.
[7.5]

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3


[Vertigo, 8.0]

Scott Cederlund:
In American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3, Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy combine Nazis and vampires in a fantastical blend of old monster and adventure movie serials.  With his vampire hunters trying to infiltrate a Nazi science stronghold, Snyder writes a spooky story, mingling real historical evils with his exploration of vampire mythology.  Mixing World War II and Hitler’s obsession with the occult creates a horror story that feels more real as Snyder plants his story in real history.  Is he creating a horror story based on history or a quasi-historical story with elements of Bram Stoker sprinkled through it?   Sean Murphy doesn’t carry over a lot of the drama and emotion from the regular series, instead concentrating on showing just how cool fighting vampires and Nazis can be, giving this series a harder edge than Rafael Albuquerque does in the regular series.
[7]

Caroline Pruett:
I can’t say that this is a comic book for everybody, because “The Third Reich teams up with a race of super-vampires” is not going to be a concept for everybody. However. If “Nazi vampires” even sounds like it might be up your alley, rest assured that you won’t find a better Nazi vampire book than this. I don’t have the vocabulary to explain what makes Sean Murphy one of the best comic book artists in the game; fortunately, all you need is a pair of eyes to see that he is. Dave Stewart’s colors do their usual job of making great art look even better – his reds just pop, and when the only reds are vampire eyes and Third Reich flags that turns out to be essential. With this able assistance, Scott Snyder continues to expand on the wildly inventive universe of his American Vampire series. Cashel and Felicia, two of the best characters from the main AV series feature here. This issue isn’t a jumping-on point, and if there’s any weakness it’s the typical mid-arc problem of remembering exactly what these characters are doing here and why. (Would a recap page kill you, Vertigo?) Still, it’s well worth picking up all three issues so far in this mini, whether you know the main title or not. Murphy and Snyder and Stewart are all at the top of their craft. Also, as I mentioned: Nazi vampires.
[9]

New Avengers #15


[Marvel Comics, 6.0]

Jeffery Simpson:
Your enjoyment of this issue of New Avengers is largely going to hinge on whether you can get past it being an issue focused on Squirrel Girl. To me she falls into the Deadpool category of a jokey character who can break the fragile realism of a comic story. I like her fine in a comedic comic (such as those written by Dan Slott), but in a comic trying to build any real tension or sense of danger a character who single defeated Doctor Doom and Thanos on her own makes it hard to take the story seriously. Perhaps Bendis could have ignored the continuity that makes her one of the Marvel Universe’s most powerful characters, but here she beats Wolverine in hand-to-hand combat so it seems like he’s embracing it. I’ve been enjoying Bendis’ interview style Fear Itself tie-ins, but I just can’t get behind Squirrel Girl and not just because of the bushy tail.
[2]

Jeff Stolarcyk:
I have been loving these ‘My Avengers Moment’ issues that Bendis has been giving us in Avengers and New Avengers during Fear Itself. This issue, spotlighting Squirrel Girl, is no different. Refreshingly, Bendis doesn’t treat Doreen as a joke, but still manages to convey her indefatigability as she takes on Wolverine in a sparring match and then takes down some Nazis once the Blitzkreig hits Manhattan. As is the part with this arc of the book, a solid mix of comic book action and strong character work from top-tier creators.
[8]

Chris Walsh:
This title continues to delight. If you had told me a year ago, after the first few issues of this run of New Avengers, that there would be an issue tying into the next big event featuring Squirrel Girl as the main character, and that it would be fun, funny, interesting,  AND still work within the larger threads of the event, I probably would have said “who the hell is Squirrel Girl and what have you been smoking?”. Yet here we are. I’ve since found out who Squirrel Girl is, but frankly, even a couple months ago I would have been somewhat incredulous that an issue focusing on her could be such a good one. And if you don’t think a wave a squirrels would be scary, you’ve never seen the really big ones in Central Park.
[8]