I ended up skipping last week’s Fast-Shot article since I was rather busy with real-life stuff and just did not have the time for doing it. But I stand by what I said in the previous two articles, that these reviews are a great way to work through the back-log and they let me do lots of different types of comics together in a single place. The last two reviews I’ve done for this new feature have both been pretty good ones in terms of that, and they’ve also been fairly popular, which is quite heartening to see. So, on to the reviews!
The picks for this week are: Dredd Uprise #1, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1, Batman: Eternal #35, Future’s End #31, Swamp Thing #35-37, and Rai #5. Another diverse line-up of titles, as always Of these, Dredd Uprise #1 is from more than a month ago I believe, one of the many comics I didn’t get around to in October, unfortunately, while Angela: Asgard’s Assassin is a new title, and Rai is returning after a significant layover, and proves to be even better with the new issue than the previous four, by a considerable margin. And with the DC titles, well, they all proved to be a very interesting lot.
Dredd Uprise #1:
My experience with Judge Dredd is extremely limited, being one of the newer generation of fans who have gotten through the door with 2012 Dredd which starred Karl Urban. I loved the movie and would love a sequel, despite the fact that the movie was an unfortunate flop at the box office. 2000AD and thousands of fans worldwide have an ongoing petition for a sequel going on at the moment, which I’m hoping that is realized in the next couple of years, but in the meantime, we are getting the next best thing: direct continuation of the movie in the form of comics. I’ve read at least one of them, the prequel comic with the movie’s villain, Mama, which was pretty good.
Dredd Uprise is a new sequel comic, following on from Dredd Underbelly, if I’m not mistaken. I approach the comic simply from the perspective of it being another Dredd story, since I haven’t read the intervening comics and thus lack that particular context. However, said lack does not affect the new story. It is just another chapter in the long life of Dredd’s service to the Justice Department. And a good one it is too. Centered on an affluent hab-block in one of the worst sectors of the Big Meg, Dredd Uprise is the story of how a lone guerrilla becomes a major headache for the Judges, and how Dredd is seemingly fighting a losing battle.
Writer Arthur Wyatt tells a pretty involved story about Dredd’s hunt for the criminal, and there are some really good twists in the overall story that keep you hooked right until the end, as things get bigger and worse. The art by Paul Davidson, Chris Blythe and Simon Bowland is not slouching either, with them delivering on the rough-and-tumble and gritty nature of the Big Meg, populated by the all the hallmarks of life in Mega-City One. I loved the story. Loved the art. And really need to catch on with the second issue that was released late last month, which I have yet to read.
Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1:
Earlier this year, we found out during the Original Sin crossover event that Thor had a sister who had been kept a secret from him and Loki all their lives. Angela, who debuted in Marvel comics last year in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy, was this long-lost sister who had apparently been murdered by the Angels of Heven uncounted years ago when the Tenth Realm was still connected to the Nine Realms, during a war between Asgard and Heven. Unfolding in the pages of Thor & Loki: Tenth Realm, it was a story that started off well, but ended up being really disappointing, dealing more with Thor and Loki’s rivalry than with the issue of Angela being their sister.
And now we have Angela in her own title, and having read through it, I am kind of scratching my head about it since I don’t get what direction writer Kieron Gillen is going in with this. Gillen drops you into the middle of the story completely cold, set several days, perhaps even weeks and months, after the end of Thor & Loki: Tenth Realm #5, and it can take the reader a good long while to center himself or herself with respect to it. This debut issue is basically an introduction to how badass Angela is and does little apart from that. The kicker comes right at the end, but even that ends up being a very confusing moment since there’s absolutely no setup to it anywhere, not in the Tenth Realm mini-series or even in the current Thor, which follows on directly from that mini-series and from Original Sin itself.
The art is quite appealing of course, with Phil Jimenez, Tom Palmer and Romulo Fajardo working on the main story while Stephanie Hans does the substory, written by Marguerite Bennett. I loved the artwork, without a doubt. Angela’s… costume is still somewhat worrisome, but thankfully the artists spend as little panel-time on it as possible, focusing instead on the character at large, her surroundings, her supporting characters, and her enemies, which are plenty. Great action scenes, and some great characterwork as well.
I’ll come back for the second issue, but I’m not expecting much, story-wise.
Batman: Eternal #35:
After the first three months of Batman: Eternal, I left off the title for a while, since it seemed to descend into a mess of characters and storylines. I didn’t come back until more than a month later, preferring to read the comics in groups rather than on a weekly basis. After what was a really strong start, the title has fluctuated in terms of quality, whether on the basis of the writing or the art or sometimes even both and I think that it is being stretched out far too much since it is supposed to end next year in March, just before DC launches its big event, Convergence.
In Batman: Eternal #35, we see lots of big things happening. Following on from Officer Bard’s betrayal of the heroes and the revelation that he was working for Hush aka Tommy Elliot all this time, we finally get to dig deeper behind the scenes and find out just what made him turn to the villain and come to Gotham to bring down its heroes. That’s pretty much what this issue is about and we see how Bard grossly misuses his power as Commissioner and how he takes advantage of Batman in that he has a hold over Lucius Fox.
I kind of liked the thrust of this issue. Bard comes across as really deranged and mentally damaged, suffering from a personal trauma that is only hinted at initially, but is confirmed by reference in the final pages. With Hush now in custody in the Batcave and watched over by Alfred’s daughter Julia, Bard is transforming as the main villain for Batman, and it is not pretty. In fact, what is happening to Batman is pretty much a train-wreck and I think that he is being setup for an event as big as Knightfall, when Bane wore him down night after night by trying to bring down supervillain escapees from Arkham and then delivering the big one-two punch in his own house and crippling him. There’s a similar desperation to Bruce in this comic, the similar feeling of fighting against great odds.
Following on from James Tynion IV’s script is the artwork from Fernando Blanco, colours from Marcelo Maiolo, letters from Steve Wands and cover from Tommy Lee Edwards. Fernando and Marcelo are two of my favourite artists in the industry, thanks to their previous work for DC that involves Justice League Dark and Green Arrow, which were both spectacular during their run on the titles. They bring a similar awesomeness to this title. I loved their characterwork and the moodiness of their colours. They are able to capture the desperation of the characters, whether Batman or Bard, really well.
Not too bad really. It seems that whenever Scott Snyder or James write an issue of the title, they really elevate things.
Future’s End #31:
Future’s End has been one of my top favourite titles of the year. It started off extremely well, and then continued on that same high for several weeks, making it to the top of my weekly picks lists again and again. In around August and September, the title kind of took a nosedive, but of late it seems to have gotten back on track. I do have some concerns about the title, the same as I do with Batman: Eternal, but what separates the two is that Future’s End is just flat-out better in almost all ways and since it is five years removed from the current timeline, that means it isn’t saddled with some of the same problems.
What’s really good about this new issue from last week is that it clears the air for several characters. Lately, we’ve seen some pretty big stuff happen, such as Green Arrow’s assault on Cadmus Island and Jason becoming part of Firestorm once again, though following on from Tim Drake’s girlfriend Madison Payne filling the role of Ronnie, who died in the explosion that merged Jason and Madison into Firestorm. Now, we see that Lois goes public with the mysteries of Cadmus Island, even as Oliver takes a much-needed break on Green Arrow Island with some of his friends while Jason and Madison try to hash out how to separate and Constantine teams up with Superman to defeat Brainiac’s advance forces.
There’s a lot to like about this issue. It isn’t one of the best on the title, not by far, but it is still a pretty solid title. I really loved how the different stories are juxtaposed with each other, alternating the serious with the comedy/near-comedy. With four different writers on this, it is easy to see how the different styles come together to create a better whole.
The artists on this issue are Jesus Merino, Dan Green, Hi-Fi, Taylor Esposito and Ryan Sook, stalwarts of the title all of them, and the artwork is pretty solid here, as it has been since the start of the series and from this particular artist combination’s first issue together. The scenes with Lois and serious and solemn. Those with Oliver are bright and funny and easy-going. The scenes with Superman and Constantine are tense with an interesting villainous obstacle. And so on.
Good, solid fun!
Swamp Thing #35-37:
Swamp Thing is a character that I’m most familiar with only from J. M. DeMatteis’ ongoing run on Justice League Dark, where he was brought in by the writer to form a new JLD team in the wake of most of the original team taken hostage by supervillains at the end of Trinity War and during the Forever Evil: Blight event. I’ve been meaning to read his stand-alone for a long while now, but just haven’t gotten around to it for a number of reasons. I finally took the plunge a while back with Charles Soule’s Swamp Thing Annual 2014, so I’m finally getting into the title.
Charles’ current arc on the title sees the Avatar of the Green facing up against the warriors of a new kingdom, the Machines. It is kind of a weird twist, to be sure, but the way that he draws out the story, you can’t help but get swept along for the ride. The Machines want Swamp Thing and the Green to join them, and as the story in these three issues progress, we see how driven they are in their mission. Alec Holland rebuffs them of course, and even makes a violent and pointed statement to that fact, but they are determined, and one of their number then comes up with the one big reason why they couldn’t win the first time: the lack of an Avatar of their own.
And so the story is set for a pretty explosive showdown, which I suspect won’t happen for a while yet, though the road getting to that is fun indeed. The Machines’ choice of an Avatar of their own, combined with the actions taken by the Machine Queen, ensure that when the Machine Kingdom’s rematch with Swamp Thing happens, it is going to be huge in a way that only superhero comics can do, and I’m going to be along for every moment of it.
The artwork in these issues is by Jesus Saiz, with colours by Matt Hollingsworth and letters by Travis Lanham. These three artists are a pretty solid team when put together. They are able to capture tons of details about the character, no matter who, and their visual flow really does stand out. Any scene with Swamp Thing exercising his powers is a sure-fire awesome scene, and I loved every appearance of the titular hero, not to mention that when the story turns to the origin of the Machine Queen, things really step up a notch, visually speaking.
My first introduction to a proper Swamp Thing story, and this proved to be good fun, so I’m definitely going to dive into other arcs on the title, perhaps even going back to Scott Snyder’s relaunch for New 52.
Rai is apparently one of Valiant Comics’ older properties and the (re)launch of the title year marks his first proper appearance in the “new” continuity currently in place from the publisher. The first two issues were definitely superb and got me really invested in the character and his world, though the third and fourth issues didn’t work out so well for me. Regardless, given how different a title it is to the rest of Valiant’s output, that alone is worth a double look from me.
Rai #5 continues the story that Matt Kindt left off in the fourth issue, which ended the first arc of the title. Rai has now learned some deeply disturbing truths about his origins, and that Father might not be the all-benevolent entity that he believed, that he might have been deceived all along and that there have been uncounted Rais before him, most of whom have suffered rather messy ends. Now, the current Rai is on a different track altogether and he wants to find out all the secrets that have been kept from him.
I really liked this issue since it focuses on far more than just Rai this time. We touched bases with Spylocke, with Silk, with the two female characters of the series Lula and Momo, one of whom has become quite central to who Rai is in this new title. It is a bold new world for Rai and he is straining against the leash put on him, though not without any evidence of that fact. Hopefully.
And what I loved was how the heroes of the 21st century are referenced in the issue, such as Livewire. Fun, innovative references that really complete the whole imagery that Matt Kindt is playing with here.
Clayton Crain is still handling all the art on this title, with Dave Lanphear covering only the letters. The art is pretty damn good here. More than any of the previous issues, Clayton really goes to town with the different visuals of New Japan, covering several different environments and showing off Rai in as great a light as possible. I love the near-cinematic visuals, all of them brimming with potential of being more. Clayton is a pretty incredible artist and this issue shows that to great effect.