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A Month In Comics: From Iron Man to Elephantmen

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Forthcoming titles:

My recommendations for your comic shopping list.

Criminal Macabre: Two Red Eyes continues the adventures of Steve Niles’ hard-boiled detective Cal McDonald. This time he’s up against Nosferatu. Kyle Hotz provides the pictures. Available December from Dark Horse. Anticipation factor: 7

Batman Confidential is the latest title for everyone’s favourite Dark Knight. From the couple of pages I’ve seen this is looking dark and violent and that’s just how I like my Batman. Story by Andy Diggle and art from Whilce Portacio. On sale December. Anticipation factor: 8

The Helmet of Fate: Ibis The Invincible is a very clunky title but hopefully top fantasy author Tad Williams’ script won’t be. This five issue series leads in the new Dr Fate 1 and is due late January. Phil Winslade provides the artwork. Anticipation factor: 6

Scalped has a unique combination of modern Native American life and mob violence. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guéra combine talents to bring this one to life. This is due early January from Vertigo. Anticipation factor: 7

Spawn/Batman: Inner Demons is a 56-page one-shot coming in time for Christmas. Written and illustrated by Todd McFarlane, this has the two heroes fighting each other's greatest villains. Anticipation factor: 7

’68 combines zombies and the Viet Nam War. Expect buckets of blood from Mark Kidwell and Nat Jones in early January. Anticipation factor: 7

Pieces For Mom: A Tale of the Undead is another zombie one-shot from Image. This looks to be a distinctly original take on the zombie theme. Two boys have to survive in a world overrun by the undead… and find food for their zombie mom. Expect lots of gruesome detail from Steve Niles and Andrew Ritchie. Out mid-January. Anticipation factor: 8

Angry Christ Comics is a must for fans of Joseph Michael Linsner’s work. This is a trade paperback collecting some of the legendary artist's early work from Cry For Dawn. Out mid-December. Anticipation factor: 7

Ultimate Vision is a five-issue mini-series that continues the titular characters' adventures from the Ultimate Extinction series. The script is by Mike Carey with Brandon Peterson providing some nice visuals. Out December. Anticipation factor: 7

Spider-Man: Reign looks to have a heavy Frank Miller influence but that’s no bad thing. It’s a Spider-Man riff on Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series – this is a violent tale of the web-swinger's future. Story and Milleresque art by Kaare Andrews. The first of this four-issue series is out in December. Anticipation factor: 8

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills sees writer Ed Brubaker continue the story of James Buchanan Barnes from the pages of Captain America. Art by the underrated Lee Weeks. A Civil War tie-in, this one-shot is available December. Anticipation factor: 7

X-23: Target X will be worth buying for the art alone. This beautiful and violent tale is brought to life by Mike Choi. If the story by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost is half as good as the art, this will be a great way to end the year. Out December. Anticipation factor: 7

Squadron Supreme: Hyperion Vs. Nighthawk is a five-issue limited series written by Marc Guggenheim. What really has me excited about this one is the presence of legendary artist Paul Gulacy. If the cover to issue one is anything to go by, this one is going to be a real bruising encounter. Available January. Anticipation factor: 9

Thunderbolts 110 marks a big change both for the group and the creative team behind it. Warren Ellis gives us “Faith in Monsters” with pencils by Mike Deodato. Following on from events in Civil War, this will be out in January. Anticipation factor: 9

This month's reading:

The Amazing Spider-Man 535

If there was a hero I’d have picked to switch sides in the Civil War, it would have been Spider-Man, and this issue he does just that. Now all he has to do is get out of Avenger's Tower and that may not be easy; next month promises a free-for-all with Iron Man. Garney’s art is still lacking in detail but writer Straczynski’s on fine form. We get a scene towards the end of the book from Peter Parker’s perspective and in this month’s FF (also scripted by Straczynski) we see it from a different view; it’s a nice idea and very well handled. Grade: B

Aquaman 44

Butch Guice’s art continues to be the highlight of this book but the story is picking up a little more pace and I think the mystery surrounding Arthur Curry may soon be revealed. Grade: B-

Blade 1

This was a disappointment. As with his recent work on The New Avengers, Chaykin’s art is great in the action scenes but looks stiff when the characters aren’t trying to kill each other. Spider-Man’s guest spot amounts to just two pages while the central story concerning a vampire unit within S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to impress. Only the flashback pages revealing hitherto unknown secrets of Blade’s origin really work, although even this seems derivative of Miller’s Daredevil, with a Stick-like character introduced. Great cover though. Grade: C

Cable & Deadpool 32

The third Civil War crossover issue concludes with the two friends on opposite sides and nothing here suggests they’ll be reunited anytime soon. Fabian Nicienza did a good job of adding some humour to the Civil War in the previous two issues but here, particularly with Cable’s confrontation with the President, he’s far too heavy handed. Staz Johnson’s pencils are once again unexceptional but adequate. Grade: C

Captain America 22

Centred on Sharon Carter and barely featuring Cap at all, this is one of the best of the Civil War crossovers. Sharon’s torn between her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and her love for Steve Rogers although the shocking revelation at the end puts that love in question. Ed Brubaker's script shows you don’t need action to make a book a page-turner and Mike Perkins' dark brooding artwork is the perfect accompaniment. One of Perkins' strengths is capturing the emotion in a face to such an extent you don’t even need words to know what a character’s feeling. Grade: B+

City of Heroes 15

A comic that has less and less to keep me reading, I don’t even play the game at the moment. Simplistic in both story and art, it’s living on borrowed time. Grade: D

Civil War 4

Simply awesome, all superhero comics should be this good. Thor returns or does he? One has to question the sanity of Tony Stark and Reed Richards after the developments this issue. The war takes its biggest casualty so far as a hero who’s been around since the '70s bites the big one and Susan Richards shows what a strong character she can be in the right hands. Cap steals the show though and gets the best line of the month. Going toe to toe with Iron Man, he’s broken and bloody, but when Iron Man asks him to give up he responds – “You really think I’m going down to some pampered punk like you?” The line speaks volumes about the relationship of these two men. While they may once have appeared friends, there’s always been a friction between them and now it’s out in the open. Steve McNiven's art gets better with each issue. Grade: A

Criminal 1

Ed Brubaker’s new series is, as the title would suggest, a crime story with no Spandex in sight. It’s a good read but I can’t help feeling that it’s not best suited to the monthly comic format and I may wait for the inevitable collection. Nice art from Sean Philips captures the tone nicely. Grade: B

Elephantmen 1-3

My big discovery this month: I bought the first issue on a whim and quickly picked up the rest. Set in a future where genetic manipulation has been used to create human/animal hybrids, this is science fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is all the more enjoyable for reveling in its pulp origins. Imagine SF noir with a Philip Marlowe-type lead who looks like a hippo and you’re halfway there. Richard Starkings stories are deceptively simple and Moritat the perfect choice to bring them to life. I’ll be looking into the previous exploits of Hieronymous Flask and the denizens of Mystery City soon. Grade: A-

Escape of the Living Dead: Fearbook 1

With story and art by Mike Wolfer, this sets the scene for the Escape of the Living Dead: Airborne title. Graphically violent, as you’d expect from a zombie book, Wolfer’s art is pretty good and it’s used to tell most of the story as there’s little dialogue. Grade: C+

Escape of the Living Dead: Airborne 1

This time it’s Dheeraj Verma on art duties and it’s a decent job; it’s only the story that lets it down. John Russo may have co-written Night of the Living Dead with George Romero but on this evidence, it was Romero who had all the good ideas. Uninvolving and just plain dull, no amount of gore can save it. Pick up Warren Ellis’ Blackgas for a much better zombie fix. Grade: C-

Fantastic Four 540

Mostly just Reed and Sue, this issue, as the Civil War leads to a separation of Marvel’s golden couple. The biggest plus of having Straczynski on this title is his ability to write strong female characters and he’s made the Invisible Woman my favourite member of the team. Mike McKone’s art is again first class. The scene that mirrors the one in Amazing Spider-Man looks far better here with more detail, not just in the backgrounds but also in the protagonist’s faces. Grade: B+

Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man 12 & 13

Peter David concludes his Mysterio storyline and while it lacks some of his usual magic it does leave enough intriguing hints about the future to keep you reading. Todd Nauck’s art isn’t going to be the comic’s big selling point, but he does an okay job. There’s definitely room for improvement all round. Grade: C+

Frontline 6

While this is the poorer of the two main Civil War limited series it’s still a damn good read. The main story gives us Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich’s on-the-spot account of the events of Civil War 4. Art on all three tales is good and writer Paul Jenkins manages to keep them moving along nicely. Grade: B

Heroes for Hire 2

An improvement on the first issue but this still feels like a light-hearted book trying to be serious. There’s none of the sparkle the writers brought to the Daughters of the Dragon series. On the positive side the art is getting better but not good enough to keep me buying this beyond the Civil War tie-in issues. Grade: C

The Incredible Hulk 86-98

I’ve finally caught up on this title. Issues 86 and 87 concluded Peter David’s short return to the book. David didn’t really do much with the character this time round and I’m not too disappointed that he moved on to X Factor.

Daniel Way took over with 88 and his first story “Peace in Our Time” marked a change in direction. Told over four issues, it sees the Hulk enlisted by Nick Fury to deal with a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. experimental satellite. It’s a good story with some great art from Keu Cha but it’s the way the story ends that really grabs the attention. A group of major heroes (including Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and Stephen Strange) decide that the only way for the planet to be truly safe from the Hulk is if he’s sent to a distant uninhabited planet.

This leads into the current “Planet Hulk” storyline with the spacecraft going off course due to the understandably unhappy Hulk’s thrashing about and it crashes on a world that’s anything but uninhabited. From there it’s Spartacus with aliens and the Hulk gets to be Kirk Douglas. Seven issues in and there’s no sign of a return to earth. With a story this entertaining, I’m in no hurry for one. Grade: B+

Giant Size Hulk 1

Three stories of ol’ greenskin are presented here, two from Peter David and one from current Hulk scribe Greg Pak. The first of David’s tales features a clash with the Champions. It feels like something that’s been sitting in someone’s drawer for a few years (the Champions don’t even exist anymore) and hardly ranks as one of Peter David’s finest moments. It passes the time pleasantly enough though.

Much better is Greg Pak’s “Banner War.” It’s a “Planet Hulk” story with a difference – it all takes place inside the Hulk’s subconscious as Banner fights for control. It’s a nice if unessential, addition to the regular titles ongoing storyline.

The best is saved for last – a reprint of the Peter David and Dale Keown classic “Hulk: The End. Imagine I Am Legend with The Hulk/Bruce Banner as the last living “man” on earth and mutated cockroaches instead of vampires. Told from Banner’s perspective, the writer takes you inside the mind of one of Marvel’s most complex characters. It ranks as one of the best Hulk stories ever and a career highpoint for both the creators.Grade: B+

The Innocents 1

Another title I bought on a whim but this one wasn’t as rewarding as Elephantmen. The cover featuring a sexy lady with a skateboard and samurai sword was what got my attention, I should have remembered the old adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Uninteresting characters and a dull story, this is one comic that won’t be in my next “This Months Reading” list. Grade: C-

The Invincible Iron Man 1-12

With the six part “Extremis” Warren Ellis shows he can write a major superhero comic as well as anyone. He manages to retell and update the armoured Avenger’s origin while also taking the character in a new and exciting direction. It’s a story that permanently changes the Tony Stark character and makes him very much Iron Man inside and out. This would have made the perfect Iron Man movie. The painted illustrations by Adi Granov are nothing short of breathtaking and make him the definitive Iron Man artist. If you missed this in the monthly comic, it’s available in a collected edition.

Picking up where Warren left off Carnivale’s Daniel Knauf (with son Charles) take the character down the road that will lead to Civil War as Stark’s armour (with him inside) is used to assassinate several people from his past. This leaves Stark with the dilemma of proving he was used as the instrument for someone else’s revenge. Patrick Zircher’s pencils would normally be something to shout about but Adi Granov is a hard act to follow. It’s not as good as “Extremis” but then few comics are but it’s still well worth a look.

Comics seem to be the place to be for film and TV writers at the moment, no doubt hoping that the recent success of comic characters to movies will flow both ways. Grade: B+

Jack Cross 1-4

More from Warren Ellis, this time with one of his own creations, Jack Cross is brought in by Homeland Security to find a mysterious stolen weapon. His methods are unorthodox (not to mention brutal) but he gets results. Surprisingly this is a straight DC title; it’s the sort of thing you’d usually expect Vertigo to publish. While Warren doesn’t shy away from making political statements (he’s clearly anti-Homeland Security) he never allows it to overshadow what is a well-paced little thriller with a few surprises up its sleeve.  Gary Erskine’s art is very cinematic; it’s like reading a movie. Grade: B

Loveless 1

I’ve had this hanging around for a while but only just got around to reading it. I wish I’d done it sooner as now I’m going to have to try and track down the back issues (or buy the collected version) of this excellent take on the western. Clearly drawing inspiration from Clint Eastwood and the films of Sergio Leone, this still has enough originality to make it a compulsive read. Marcelo Frusin is the real discovery with some superbly stylish work that gives the book a unique look. Grade: B+

New Avengers 23

This month concentrates on Spider-Woman and writer Brian Michael Bendis really puts her through the wringer. Whose side will she end up on in the Civil War? The emotional final page brings the answer and shows that even superheroes are sometimes all too human. Oliver Colpel’s work here is excellent, not only for the art itself but also the exciting panel layout that adds a  real sense of urgency to the action scenes. Grade: A

That's it for this month!

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About Ian Woolstencroft

  • Rohan Venkat

    Some good calls there. And yes, although Civil War #4 was really really good, I’m still worried that Miller is only showing us the pro’s bad side, I mean look at all that happens in this issue, and though we are getting some points in for the pro’s, it is coming from the tie-in’s rather than from the main back. Yes there are 3m ore issues to go, but right about this now, I’d have expected to be rethinking my decision about “Whose Side I’m On.”

    Still, can’t criticise an unfinished event.

    Thanks for bringing up Elephantmen, I’m definitely going to have a look at it.

    I realize you have a rather extensive pull list there, but have you checked out any of Virgin’s offerings yet? My best bet there so far, has to be John Woo’s Seven Brothers.

  • Ian Woolstencroft

    Rohan, I can see your point about Civil War, it may be a little unbalanced in its perspective but for me that’s a plus. I’d rather read a comic by a writer like Millar who’s making a point as well as telling a damn good yarn, so long as it’s true to the characters and I think this has been. As for rethinking your position, you may not be but some of the heroes are and I was pleased to see Spidey swap sides. I still don’t see how it’s going to end although I suspect both sides may have to come together to combat a larger threat, possibly from Dr Doom and the Red Skull. We shall see…

    Hope you enjoy Elephantmen as much as I did. There’s an issue 0 due out soon that reprints the original first story to feature the characters – “Unnatural Selection.”

    As for Virgin Comics, I’ve read issue 1 of Devi and thought it was OK but nothing special and I have the premier of Snake Woman in my “to read” pile. I was tempted by Seven Brothers but what puts me off is the line’s reliance on name directors like Woo and Shekhar Kapur to sell the comics even though they’re not writing the books, only coming up with the initial concept. I may give them another try at some point though.

  • Rohan Venkat

    Yeah, Civil War’s a good book, for sure, it’s just not, so far, all that Marvel said it would be.

    And honestly, I had little doubt that Spidey would swap sides, it’ll who else will do it. And yes, unless the ending is going to be interesting, and if it’s anything other than what you said, then Marvel have done a good job in keeping wraps on it, that is, assuming it’s any good.

    I realise that John Woo’s name is only useful for the marketing, but 7 brothers is written by Garth Ennis, and is quite good, IMO.

  • manfred

    I am looking forward to reading X-23, one of the few new interesting characters in the Marvel Universe and Spiderman Reign. Wonder how they ever killed Mary Jane.

    X-23, how old is she anyway?

  • Ian Woolstencroft

    I think X-23 is about 13 or 14 but don’t quote me on that.

    As for killing off Mary Jane, this goes against a recent Peter David scripted issue of Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man which had a future Mary Jane outlive Peter Parker. I’m not sure if this means that Reign takes place outside established continuity or not.

  • manfred

    13 or 14? And she was a prostitute ? She was in Nyx.

    I believe I read somewhere that Reign takes place in an alternative timeline, not part of the Established one.