Comics Review: ‘Action Comics’ #1012

There’s mystery and intrigue as Brian Michael Bendis continues his Superman work…

Action Comics #1012

Cover art by Jamal Campbell (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Szymon Kudranski / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

As Superman faces the threat of Leviathan’s attacks, Daily Planet reporter Robinson Goode investigates the rise in criminal activity in Metropolis…

In review

Following the recent launch of the Event Leviathan mini-series, Brian Michael Bendis continues his Superman run with the latest issue of Action Comics.  Building on the previous arc, “Leviathan Rising” and the ‘Invisible Mafia’ storyline, Action Comics #1012 is a slow but interesting read – it’s lack of action (ironically there’s much more of that in the main Superman book, also written by Bendis) made up for with some intriguing character work.  Despite the comic’s cover, there’s actually not a lot of Superman – or Clark – in this issue, which makes sense given he’s busy with what’s going on in Superman and Event Leviathan.  Bendis does however provide some enjoyable moments between Clark and Lois in the Fortress of Solitude, where there’s some sweet and playful dialogue as the couple discuss their first meeting before Clark speeds off to deal with a crisis or two.

The bulk of Action Comics #1012 focuses on the Daily Planet’s newest reporter, Robinson Goode a.k.a. Superman’s new adversary known as the Red Cloud – who seems to be having trouble controlling her ‘red mist’ powers (as her ambiguous secret meetings with the Invisible Mafia’s ‘Queenpin’ continue).  Bendis gives Goode an appropriately snarky quality and her often dismissive attitude towards her colleagues, specifically Trish, adds to that although there’s a little bit of fun as the pair ponder over a photograph of Lois Lane locked in an embrace with Superman…a moment that could have consequences?  Shifting the narrative forward, Goode meets with Rose Forest who reveals that she has been fighting the underground criminals of Metropolis as the meta-vigilante ‘Thorn’ and believes that there’s a conspiracy within the city’s police that’s linked to the increasing Metropolis crime-wave.  This is where the story begins to get interesting and more so as it builds ties to Event Leviathan – that series can be enjoyed separately, but Action Comics also functions as a companion piece whilst still fleshing out its own ongoing story arcs.

Part of what works well with Action Comics is that Brian Bendis brings a more grounded, street-level quality to the book (saving the epic scale and spectacle for Superman) with a tighter focus on characters such as Robinson Goode, the Daily Planet and an investigative angle that’s all in evidence here and whilst there is less of Superman, his presence is still felt throughout the story.

Szymon Kudranski’s art is rather excellent – there are a couple of odd facial expressions but it’s generally strong and full of detail, with an extra grittiness employed in the brutal sequences depicting Thorn’s violent encounters with Metropolis gangsters.   Colours by Brad Anderson are especially effective in the contrast between the darker, more sinister moments and the brighter, clearer scenes elsewhere.

The bottom line:  A slow yet intriguing issue of Action Comics with which writer Brian Michael Bendis continues to build a solid run for the Man of Steel whilst neatly tying into Event Leviathan.

Action Comics #1012 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Advertisements

Comics Review: ‘Event Leviathan’ #1

Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev re-unite for DC’s new mystery thriller…

Event Leviathan #1

Alex Maleev’s evocative and moody cover for DC’s ‘Event Leviathan’ #1 (credit: DC Entertainment).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Alex Maleev

What’s it about?

Drawn together as they investigate the destruction of key intelligence agencies, Batman, Lois Lane, Green Arrow and The Question find that they must uncover the identity of the mysterious perpetrator known as Leviathan before more attacks can occur…

In review

Writer Brian Michael Bendis expands his DC Comics work with Event Leviathan a six-issue mini-series that unites some of the DC Universe’s greatest detectives – Batman, Lois Lane, Green Arrow and The Question to investigate the decimation of the intelligence community by Leviathan, an enemy whose true identity remains unknown.  Teaming up with his most celebrated collaborator, artist Alex Maleev (the duo having previously worked on titles such as Daredevil, International Iron Man, Infamous Iron Man and the creator-owned Jinxworld series, Scarlet), Brian Bendis provides a promising and intriguing start to this gritty mystery thriller.

Less of an actual sprawling ‘event’ in the traditional sense, which usually involves collecting a plethora of titles and numerous tie-ins, Event Leviathan spills out of the recent “Leviathan Rising” arc in the Bendis penned (with art by Steve Epting) Action Comics yet is a contained story in its own right, although a reading of that aforementioned arc (and forthcoming issues of Action) will enrich the experience of this first issue.  This isn’t an action and plot heavy premiere and Bendis incorporates a decent amount of exposition to recap the events in Action Comics and the groundwork laid there, making the book accessible to new readers.  This might make things a little slow and ponderous to those who do follow that Superman – who is actually absent here – title but it sets the mood and we are drawn in by the dialogue as Bendis reiterates the stakes, principally the destruction of the facilities of intelligence agencies ARGUS, the DEO and Spyral, the dynamics between the central characters (always a strength with Brian Michael Bendis) and the mystery they must work together to quickly unravel – the identity of the masked Leviathan.

Bendis has already been crafting a solid run on both Superman and Action Comics and has certainly nailed the core components of Lois Lane’s personality and that continues seamlessly in Event Leviathan, pinning down her drive and determination to the truth – and not unlike her Kryptonian husband, justice.  He also has a unique handling of Batman who is slightly more engaging and forthcoming with others as well as being prone to a dash of dry sarcasm, in comparison to the more bleak and troubled soul of Tom King’s Batman.  That’s no criticism of King’s work but that specific approach wouldn’t quite fit in with Event Leviathan where the Dark Knight needs to be committed to a common cause.  It’s not necessarily inconsistent, just appropriate for this story and Bendis ensures that there’s a focus on the skill and deduction we expect and enjoy in any representation of Batman.  Aside from Lois and Batman, Bendis delivers strong takes on Green Arrow and The Question giving both significant roles to play and the tension is heightened by an injured and defensive Steve Trevor, desperate to prevent his survival of Leviathan’s acts being seen as a source of suspicion.

Alex Maleev’s art (who also provides his own inks and colours) is, as usual, sublime with the dirty and gritty visuals giving Event Leviathan the sort of grounded, detective noir feel it needs and whilst there’s that certain street-level sense that came with his work on Daredevil, he’s also just as capable when it comes to creating epic scenes – the crumbling interior of the new ARGUS base and the establishing exterior shot of its prior state are stark and beautiful, respectively.

The bottom line:  Event Leviathan launches with a slow burning but interesting and atmospheric start, made all the more appealing thanks to a tried and trusted creative team.

Event Leviathan #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

It’s farewell to the ‘First Class’ as Fox’s X-Men series draws to a close…

X-Men Dark Phoenix (a)

The finale to 20th Century Fox’s Marvel film series – ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’ (credit: 20th Century Fox/Marvel).

 

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Jessica Chastain

Directed and written by:  Simon Kinberg / 114 minutes

What’s it about?

Whilst on a mission to rescue the crew of a stricken space shuttle, X-Men team member Jean Grey encounters a mysterious cosmic force which amplifies her psychokinetic powers to dangerous and uncontrollable levels…

In review

Serving as the finale of 20th Century Fox’s mainline X-Men film series (although troubled spin-off New Mutants is still, presently, set for an eventual theatrical release) – the rights to the property now with Marvel Studios following Disney’s Fox acquisition – X-Men: Dark Phoenix follows 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse with a plot once again based on the iconic comic book storyline previously adapted (superbly) for the 1990s X-Men animated series and incorporated (not so successfully) into Fox’s original X-trilogy capper, X-Men: The Last Stand (released back in 2006).

Written and directed by long-term X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg, the 90’s-set X-Men: Dark Phoenix (simply known as just ‘Dark Phoenix’ in the U.S.) isn’t the rousing, wholly satisfying finale the series deserved but nor is it a crashing failure.  It doesn’t hit the heights of previous entries First Class or Days of Future Past but is comfortably superior to The Last Stand and a fair leap above X-Men Origins: Wolverine, arguably the franchise’s lowest point.  Aiming for a more grounded and character driven focus than the divisive Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix is unlikely to sway viewers left unimpressed by Bryan Singer’s X-sequel but it’s a laudable approach and Kinberg’s script packs an emotional punch whilst the sombre and dark tone lends some emotional maturity and tension to the proceedings.  The only issue here is that it doesn’t feel as though we’ve been given enough time to truly care about the newer X-Men team members introduced in Apocalypse and besides Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey they don’t actually get a whole lot to do in Dark Phoenix beyond playing their part in the action.  There’s also some drag in the pacing during the second act due to the slow-burn narrative, with much of the action saved for the finale which together with that desire for a more restrained and personal approach can leave Dark Phoenix lacking a larger sense of adventure and excitement, something First Class and Days of Future Past were able to accomplish whilst still delivering on character.

Cast performances are generally strong, Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) does a solid enough job with a lot of dramatic weight to carry as Jean Grey, unable to control the temptation and danger of the Phoenix force descends into turmoil.  Returning First Class alumni Jennifer Lawrence is suitably dour and weary as Raven/Mystique and fellow first generation X-Man Nicholas Hoult has a poignant and contemplative turn as Hank McCoy/Beast.  Interstellar’s Jessica Chastain makes for a sinister if underdeveloped villain, her manipulation of the increasingly fragile Jean and her Phoenix force heightened powers providing high stakes and a cause for our heroes to rally against.

X-Men Dark Phoenix (b)

Tye Sheridan returns as Cyclops (credit: 20th Century Fox/Marvel).

Again though, it’s James McAvoy and Michel Fassbender – Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto respectively – who are the standouts and both actors are provided with some good material, especially McAvoy as Xavier grapples with fracturing friendships, a reluctance to acknowledge his mistakes and an uncertain future for the X-Men and consequentially, mutantkind.  Sadly, despite having roles to play in the action, Alexandra Shipp’s Storm, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Nightcrawler are not afforded a large enough presence for the majority of the film and tend to withdraw into the background with no significant character arcs of their own.  Tye Sheridan’s Scott Summers/Cyclops fares better but, again, there hasn’t really been time enough for the actors and their respective characters to grow beyond their debuts in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Making his feature film directorial debut, Simon Kinberg handles it fairly competently – keeping things level and focused in the more character-driven scenes whilst skilfully staging the action which aside from the initial space rescue mission (accompanied by some nicely atmospheric music from score composer Hans Zimmer), includes a climactic battle aboard a speeding train that ramps up the tension as Dark Phoenix reaches its denouement.  Despite the months of extensive re-shoots, Kinberg’s film hangs together in a coherent manner.

So, although Dark Phoenix isn’t a runaway hit it’s not a disastrous misfire either resulting in an entertaining diversion that doesn’t live up to the high-points of the X-Men franchise or it’s potential as a grand finale but is a stronger take on a beloved story arc with some decent character beats and an action-packed final act.

The bottom line:  Not the train wreck it was feared to be nor the epic final chapter it could’ve been, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is still a reasonably enjoyable time for those willing to give it a chance.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas now.

Film Review: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’

The kaiju king returns as Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse continues…

Godzilla King of the Monsters

The mighty Titan himself: Godzilla (credit: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures).

 

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Ziyi Zhang, Bradley Whitford, Charles Dance

Directed by:  Michael Dougherty / written by:  Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields (story by Max Borenstein, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields) / 131 minutes

What’s it about?

Faced with the onslaught of gigantic creatures, awoken from their prehistoric slumber – the organisation known as Monarch find that there’s only one hope for humanity: the mighty Godzilla…

In review

Following Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, the 2014 Hollywood reboot of Japanese studio Toho’s most famous monster and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (released in 2017), Godzilla: King of the Monsters serves as the next chapter in Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures’ ‘MonsterVerse’ film series (which is set to culminate in Godzilla vs Kong next year).  Directed and co-written by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a visual feast that’s a little dumb and sometimes overly frenetic, but ultimately a whole lot of monster bashing fun.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters picks up five years after the events of Godzilla in which the titular apex predator – or ‘Titan’ – emerged victorious in his battle against the ‘MUTO’ creatures, saving humanity but at great personal cost for some with the city of San Francisco left decimated.  Since Godzilla’s disappearance the Monarch organisation has continued its research and investigation of the various ancient Titans – amongst them King Ghidorah (a three-headed dragon), Mothra (aptly, a giant moth) and Rodan (a sort of demonic Pteranodon) – discovered in their dormant states at various locations around the globe.  When the creatures are awakened by eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance), Monarch once again find their only hope in preventing annihilation may be Godzilla, the mighty king of all monsters.

Godzilla King of the Monsters (2)

Charles Dance and Millie Bobby Brown form part of the human cast (credit: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures).

Although characterisation is patchy, the dialogue occasionally ropey (and the persistent volley of wise-cracks from Bradley Whitford’s Monarch boffin aren’t entirely successful) and cookie-cutter gung-ho military types dumbing things down a tad, like Gareth Edwards’ film there’s a certain amount of human interest – the broken family unit (torn apart by tragic circumstances) is nothing new but it provides some emotional depth with Kyle Chandler’s estranged father Mark Russell (and former Monarch employee), whizz-kid daughter Madison (Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown) and mother Emma (and Monarch scientist), played by Vera Farmiga, placed firmly at the centre.  Some of the character motivations are questionable, even far-fetched and Charles Dance is woefully underutilised but luckily a returning Ken Watanabe (as Doctor Serizawa) is well served by the script and given a satisfying arc.  The use of bio-acoustics as a method of controlling the Titans is also a neat concept as is the notion that their conflict as a way of restoring the balance of nature that humanity has corrupted.

Make no mistake though, this is a Godzilla film and not Citizen Kane and King of the Monsters is at its best when dealing with its monster action and it fully delivers in its CGI kaiju smack-downs (the creatures thankfully remaining faithful to their original Toho designs), saturated with jaw-dropping effects rendered on a behemothic scale.  An overzealous employment of quick-cuts and shaky-cam in the visuals makes the spectacle a bit messy and nauseating at times but that aside, director Michel Dougherty (who previously helmed the fantasy horror flick Krampus and has co-writer credits on Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 and Superman Returns) maintains a steady grip on things.

In the end, King of the Monsters may lack some of the class and sophistication of 2014’s Godzilla (and there’s something to be said of that film’s divisive approach, the steady build-up facilitating a more rewarding pay-off) but with its spirited homage to the zany comic book B-movie sci-fi of Toho’s original films, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has value as a piece of popcorn entertainment and an enjoyable prelude to Godzilla vs Kong.

The bottom line:  Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a fun, undemanding slice of kaiju action that joyfully evokes the spirit of those kitsch Toho creature features.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is in cinemas now.

All images herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).