Have You Read… ‘Hulk: Gray’?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out… 

Hulk Gray (a)

Cover art for the original hardcover collected edition of Hulk: Gray by Tim Sale (image credit: Marvel Comics).

 

Written by:  Jeph Loeb / art by:  Tim Sale (The Incredible Hulk created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

What’s it about?

Seeking out an old friend, Dr. Bruce Banner recounts the first hours following his exposure to Gamma radiation – the very event which unleashed his raging alter-ego, aka the Incredible Hulk…

In review

Following their collaborations on Daredevil: Yellow and Spider-Man: Blue, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale (the creative team who produced fan favourites Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman: For All Seasons for DC) reunited for another Marvel Comics limited series – Hulk: Gray, originally published in 2003/2004 as six single issues under the more mature and less creatively restricted Marvel Knights banner.

Hulk: Gray is a standalone story recounting a previously untold tale in the history of the Incredible Hulk, within the first 24 hours of Dr. Bruce Banner’s fateful exposure to Gamma radiation and his transformation into the raging gray – or “grey” – giant.  That’s right…as aficionados will likely be aware, the Hulk was originally coloured grey for his debut in 1963’s The Incredible Hulk #1 and was subsequently recoloured green due to issues with printing reproduction (although a grey version of the Hulk would later feature in Peter David’s popular run on the title).  But aside from honouring this aspect of the character’s origin, the title Gray has more of a thematic meaning as it ponders the shadier middle moral ground between black and white.  It also explores the Frankenstein parallels that have often been linked to the character – something that was there from that very first classic issue by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  The story is presented in a straightforward manner, weaving its ideas neatly into the narrative.

Hulk: Gray opens as a forever on-the-run Bruce Banner, mourning the death of his late beloved wife, Betty (nee Ross), on the night of their wedding anniversary, takes a brief pause to seek the counsel of an old friend, psychotherapist Dr. Leonard Samson.  Tired of being pursued and eternally haunted by his beastly alter-ego, Banner bares his soul to Samson as he recalls his earliest moments as the Hulk and how the only true salvation in his life was Betty.  Yet, as we learn, Betty’s initial encounter with the Hulk is not exactly a sympathetic one and adds to Banner’s heartbreak in the face of an inevitably irreversible change in his life.

As well as Banner’s relationship with Betty, Hulk: Gray also looks at the conflict the Hulk’s appearance incites with the U.S. Military as Betty’s father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross begins his relentless campaign to hunt down the creature.  What’s interesting is that Gray really conveys the sense that Ross, with his traditional air of “might makes right” (again in-line with how he was originally conceived by Lee and Kirby), is equally as raging and destructive as the Hulk, the difference being that his actions are deemed lawful and sanctioned by the U.S. government.  He may be more in control and less unpredictable than the almost mindless (or more child-like) Hulk, but the maniacal, near-psychotic Ross faithfully depicted here is proven to be just as dangerous with the resources – the “might” – at his command.

There’s still an element of hope in the story as the Hulk is not totally alone and has one person he can call “friend” (notwithstanding an unfortunately brief meeting with a desert-roaming bunny rabbit) – teenager Rick Jones, whom Banner had saved from the fallout of the Gamma Bomb test.  Gray highlights the ever-important friendship between Banner/Hulk and Rick and touches upon the burden of guilt that Rick carries as he blames himself for Banner being caught in the blast that leads to his ‘condition’.  Despite his troubles, Banner doesn’t hold his new young friend responsible and both as man and beast finds, at this point, his only trusted ally.  It underpins Banner’s inherent sense of morality and benevolence that prevents the Hulk from becoming a force of evil without removing the element of danger that accompanies an unrestrained and primal creature.

Throughout its six chapters, Gray serves up a pleasing dose of Hulk-Smash! entertainment and facilitates a secret, undocumented pre-Avengers confrontation between the formidable grey behemoth and Tony Stark’s Iron Man (with his classic early 60s bulky, golden tin-man appearance).  The desert-bound battle between the two future allies is a standout moment with Stark quickly realising that he’s bitten off more than he can chew as he’s beaten and tossed around by the Hulk.  Despite the technology at his disposal, Stark is unable to counter the threat that he and the U.S. Military have, perhaps unwittingly, provoked.

With the opening and closing of Gray taking place in the present, most of the story is told via Banner and Banner/Samson’s conversation, threaded throughout and serving as a narration.  Jeph Loeb’s entertaining script grapples onto the thematic concepts to present a poignant and thought-provoking tale of a man and a simple-minded and powerful but misunderstood monster, examining the dichotomy between the two personas and Banner’s startling revelation of why he really believes Betty loved him and stood by him for so long.

Tim Sale’s art is great and makes for a suitable accompaniment to Loeb’s script, with a classic, cartoon style that is reverential to – but exaggerates – Jack Kirby’s original visual design and which was also influenced by celebrated Hulk artist Marie Severin and her parody take on the character, ‘The Inedible Bulk’ (appearing in Marvel’s superhero spoof comic Not Brand Echh).  The use of colouring and shading is simple and effective (the black and white bookending sequences between Banner and Samson adds a touch of noir that also accentuates the central ‘grey area’ concept), creating a strong sense of atmosphere and the use of grey ink wash for the Hulk himself provides a subtle highlight that helps the iconic character standout on the page.  Whilst Sale’s style wouldn’t necessarily work as successfully in regular issues of The Incredible Hulk, the art he produces for Hulk: Gray is befitting of the pulpier approach taken by a story rooted in atomic age sci-fi.

Lovingly executed by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Hulk: Gray is a salute and homage to those early tales of the Incredible Hulk crafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, simply told whilst broadening the depth of a decades-old Marvel Comics icon and reiterating the core elements that make the character most appealing.

Geek fact!

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale would team up once again in 2008 for a further ‘colour’ Marvel hero limited series – Captain America: White in which Steve Rogers recounts a special mission during World War II.

Hulk: Gray is published by Marvel Comics 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).

Comic Review: ‘Action Comics’ #1021

The Man of Steel fights to save Metropolis from total destruction…

Action Comics #1021

Cover art by John Romita Jr (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  John Romita Jr / inks by:  Klaus Janson / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

“Metropolis Doom!” Conclusion : as Metropolis crumbles, Superman faces-off against a supervillain team-up of seemingly unbeatable proportions – but help is at hand…

In review

A good but by no means great issue of Action Comics, issue #1021 concludes the “Metropolis Doom” arc which began back in issue #1017.  The good is furnished by writer Brian Michael Bendis with an entertaining, if packed, script and solid characterisation whereas the not-so-good is the result of the underwhelming visuals by penciller John Romita Jr.

Brian Michael Bendis produces some challenging stakes for the Man of Steel as he confronts the combined threat of Leviathan, the Invisible Mafia and Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom.  Luckily, Superman has some help as the Justice League and Young Justice join the fight to save Metropolis from annihilation.  Bendis continues to demonstrate his passion and belief in the values of Superman in a classic take on the character that is both reverential and relevant, bringing strength and hope in a time of bleak crisis.  The support of the likes of Justice League comrades Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern in addition to Young Justice heroes such as Conner Kent’s Superboy, Impulse and Wondergirl enhances the hopeful and upbeat aspects of the story.  It’s certainly ambitious and epic in scope but can also make thing seem a little overcrowded at times, there are some fun quips from the likes of Flash and Conner Kent in the heat of battle and there’s a lot of strong dialogue for Supes himself, maintaining the determination and morality we’d expect – even when the odds are stacked against our hero.

In terms of adversaries, Leviathan continues to be an intriguing and well-defined antagonist with an idealistic nature and identifiable motivations.  Bendis also continues to develop the increasing threat of the Invisible Mafia and the Red Cloud which has been building since the beginning of his Action Comics tenure, but perhaps it’s time to bring things to a head with Red Cloud/Robinson Goode and seek some resolution to that particular arc.  Once again though, Lex Luthor (in his ‘apex’ form) is the most formidable of opponents and the climactic showdown between Luthor and Superman is suitably tense and richly dialogued.

What really diminishes the quality of this issue – and indeed this arc – is penciller John Romita Jr who’s blocky, cartoonish characters and overuse of linework to accentuate shading is something of an acquired taste (it’s a shame that Romita Jr has maintained this style in recent years as some of his earlier work is actually pretty good).  It’s not totally awful, the visuals are improved by legendary inker Klaus Janson and veteran colourist Brad Anderson and to be fair Romita Jr does help construct some intense action sequences and is able to bring out the emotions of the various players, but it irrefutably pales in comparison to the exemplary work Ivan Reis is doing over on the also Bendis-written Superman.  Fans of John Romita Jr will likely be satisfied but one can only wonder how much more appealing and effective the story could have been if drawn by someone like Jim Lee or Jason Fabok.

The bottom line:  Brian Michael Bendis writes a fairly enjoyable, if overstuffed, issue of Action Comics that’s let down by some unremarkable visuals by penciller John Romita Jr.

Action Comics #1021 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).

Comic Review: ‘Justice League’ #40

Writer Robert Venditti takes on DC’s premier superhero team… 

Justice League #40

Cover art by Bryan Hitch & Jeremiah Skipper (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Robert Venditti / pencils by:  Doug Mahnke / inks by:  Richard Friend / colours by:  David Baron

What’s it about?

“Impact” Part 1 : crashing to Earth, ex-Green Lantern Corps member Sodam Yat delivers a stark warning of an incoming invasion to the Justice League, lead by an old foe of Superman’s…

In review

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps and Hawkman writer Robert Venditti takes the reigns of DC’s leading team-up title Justice League as issue #40 presents a fresh start with the first chapter of a new story arc, “Impact”.  Venditti’s tenure follows a largely enjoyable run written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV and with Justice League #40, necessarily scales things back a little and neatly streamlines the superhero group’s roster to a core line-up of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and John Stewart’s Green Lantern.  It seems that Snyder’s close to issue #39 may not have been what readers may have expected – a cliffhanger of sorts (that in hindsight maybe wasn’t?) – as it isn’t addressed by Venditti who instead favours a clean break whilst acknowledging recent events in the wider DC Universe, such as Superman’s reveal of his true identity to the world (in last December’s Superman #18 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis).  After the mind-bending plethora of ideas infused into the book by Messrs Snyder and Tynion it’s an appropriate reset that allows ongoing readers to re-orientate themselves and provide an access point for new fans to jump onboard – and it generally works (there is of course a lot going on in the DC canon of late), making for a solid first issue for the new Justice League writer.

Robert Venditti builds an entertaining and appealing opening instalment of “Impact”, quickly demonstrating his knowledge of the DCU and the characters he utilises for Justice League – with an effective grasp of the familiar dynamics between the various heroes (the conflicted but brotherly Batman/Superman interplay providing some small but key moments).  It may be quite a wordy narrative, and a great deal of the issue is merely setting the stage, but there’s still a decent helping of action to accompany the drama, tension and the high stakes (dialling things back to the more manageable and comprehensive playing field of a single universe) established, wasting no time in introducing a new threat for the League to face: the return of the Eradicator – the cold and ruthless Superman clone who debuted during “Reign of the Supermen” in the 1990s.  Receiving warning from former Green Lantern, Daxam’s Sodam Yat, who crashes to Earth, the Justice League learns the news that the Eradicator has engineered an army of Daxamites free from their Kryptonian vulnerabilities and plans to decimate the planet, beginning a campaign of conquest across the universe.  The Eradicator can often be overlooked and perhaps underrated as a Superman villain and Venditti affirms that in the right hands he can be a powerful (both literally and figuratively) antagonist, without violating the known traits of the character and is bound to provide a significant challenge for our heroes to unite against.

The art by penciller Doug Mahnke (with inks by Richard Friend and colours by David Baron) is very good and although there are some rough and sketchy spots here and there, it’s a great looking comic that’s visually epic and exciting in all the right instances with the more confined, character-focused scenes being equally well-defined and together with Venditti’s script it all keeps the reader engaged and provides plenty of anticipation for what’s to come.

The bottom line:  Robert Venditti takes up writing duties on Justice League and with penciller Doug Mahnke delivers a solid first chapter of a new story arc that promises high stakes for DC’s core heroes.

Justice League #40 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).

Have You Read… ‘Iron Man: Extremis’?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out…

Iron Man Extremis

Art by Adi Granov (image credit: Marvel Comics).

Written by:  Warren Ellis / art by:  Adi Granov

What’s it about?

Tony Stark faces a new and deadly threat as he dons his Iron Man armour to stop a biologically enhanced terrorist from destroying the U.S. government…

In review

Originally published as the first six-issue storyline for Marvel Comics’ 2005 relaunch of The Invincible Iron Man (recently re-issued in a new hardcover edition as part of the comic book publisher’s ‘Marvel Select’ line), Iron Man: Extremis is a benchmark in modern Iron Man comics.  Extremis can be read as a self-contained, standalone story without the need for any familiarity with the decades-long history of Iron Man.  With a sharp and exciting script, British comic book writer Warren Ellis (The Authority) crafts an intelligent science fiction bio-tech thriller with an intriguing, thought provoking concept at its core complemented by solid characterisation, a touch of horror and blockbuster action – brought to life by artist Adi Granov’s unique visuals.

Extremis is a story that’s conscious of the war on terror and the technological explosion of the early 21st Century.  It sees an experimental biological enhancile known as ‘Extremis’ fall into the hands of domestic terrorists who test it on one of their number – a dangerous and radical low-life named Mallen.  Utilising deadly superhuman powers bestowed upon him by Extremis, including enhanced healing and strength together with the ability to unleash searing blasts of flames, Mallen wreaks havok as he sets about his anti-U.S. government agenda.  Maya Hansen, an old acquaintance of Tony Stark and one of the creators of Extremis enlists the help of the Stark Industries CEO in stopping the terror but a brutal confrontation with Mallen ends with the Iron Man armour being severely damaged and Tony Stark critically injured.  The only hope of Stark making a quick recovery and being able to match Mallen leads to him risking the use of Extremis on himself.

The Extremis process itself, the ability to essentially unlock and manipulate the human body’s (essentially hack its ‘operating system’) repair centre is a fascinating idea and Ellis explores it in a philosophical and also ethical manner as its military applications, and the risks thereof, are debated.  It also presents an evolution for Tony Stark/Iron Man as the marriage between the two is deepened to the biological level, increasing the powers and abilities of the Iron Man armour and its user – providing a new and exciting modern status-quo for the enduring Marvel character.

This is pre-MCU Iron Man and those only familiar with Robert Downey Jr’s more light-hearted and quippy portrayal of Tony Stark (which is enjoyable in itself) may be surprised to find that this version of the character is quite different.  In keeping with previous interpretations in the comics, the Tony Stark in Extremis is a billionaire philanthropist (the ‘playboy’ aspect isn’t really on display here), a genius almost constantly thinking of the next innovation who is somewhat insular and broody yet well-intentioned – driven to ensure that his company moves away from its past identity as a weapons manufacturer – despite grappling with personal demons, finding a true sense of purpose and self-worth when he dons his revolutionary Iron Man armour – the world at large unaware that Stark himself is the Iron Avenger.  Despite some of the more troubled elements of the main character, Warren Ellis injects a smattering of humour where it’s appropriate and Stark isn’t without some charm but it’s generally a darker and more mature realisation in-line with earlier iterations of Iron Man whilst being resonant in a post 9/11 world.

Warren Ellis deftly weaves an updated but faithful recounting of the Stark/Iron Man origin story into the narrative via a media interview and flashbacks – modernising it by transposing the setting from during the Vietnam War to the conflict against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan (much like we saw on film in 2008’s Iron Man), where Stark, gravely injured by one of his own weapons is captured by Afghan terrorists and with the help of fellow captive, Doctor Ho Yinsen builds his first Iron Man suit as a means to both keep him alive and fight his way to an escape.

The digital art by the Bosnian-American illustrator Adi Granov is excellent, some may find it unusual or an acquired taste with its computer-generated look, but it produces clean and realistic visuals that are somewhat filmic with its muted colouring.  There are several striking single page spreads, boldly presenting the Iron Man suit in all its glory and the action is equally impressive – especially in the origin story flashbacks.  Granov also proves himself adept at the flourishes of horror in Ellis’s script with the startling and gross Extremis transformations.

The “Extremis” storyline would later form part of the plot for Marvel Studios’ 2013 big screen smash Iron Man Three but the comic book source by Messrs. Ellis and Granov is more like a Christopher Nolan film or a HBO production of Iron Man and is all the more attractive for it, making for a highly recommended read.

Geek fact!

Adi Granov helped to design the Iron Man and Iron Monger armours for Marvel Studios’ Iron Man as well as providing key-frame illustrations for the film.

Iron Man: Extremis is published by Marvel Comics 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).

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #86

A new era dawns for the Dark Knight…

Batman #86

Cover art by Tony S. Daniel, Danny Miki & Tomeu Morey (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  James Tynion IV / pencils by:  Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March (epilogue) / inks by:  Danny Miki / colours by:  Tomeu Morey

What’s it about?

“Their Dark Designs” Part 1 : in the aftermath of Bane’s decimation, Bruce Wayne plans to help Gotham City rebuild but a new threat builds as his continuing mission as Batman brings him into a confrontation with the lethal assassin, and old foe, Deathstroke…

In review

Following Tom King’s epic (but divisive in some areas of fandom) near four-year run on DC’s leading title, former Detective Comics writer James Tynion IV is handed the keys to Wayne Manor (after a brief prologue that featured in #85) as he takes over the reins on Batman with penciller Tony S. Daniel with issue #86 – an ideal jumping on point for lapsed and new readers alike.

Batman #86 picks up in the wake of “City of Bane”, Tom King’s final arc on the comic which concluded in the previous issue.  It’s not necessary to have followed that story as James Tynion IV takes care to cover the essentials neatly and without an overload of convoluted exposition.  In the aftermath of Bane’s rule over Gotham City, a reflective Bruce Wayne begins picking up the pieces as he continues his war on crime as the Batman.  The difference this time is that Bruce sees an opportunity to not only help rebuild Gotham but to reform it as well, something that he feels can be achieved by both Bruce Wayne and Batman – with a little help from Selina Kyle and Lucius Fox.  However, it isn’t going to be easy and a confrontation with Deathstroke leads to a new threat for Gotham and its protector.

Tynion hits the ground running with his first full issue, it may lack the more poetic and existential quality that Tom King brought to the book, favouring a more action-orientated approach, but nor does it reinvent the wheel and there’s certainly a philosophical element to the story as Bruce Wayne contemplates the future of Batman and the possibility that if his plans for Gotham succeed there’ll no longer be a need for him.  Tynion carved a standout run on Detective Comics at the inset of DC’s Rebirth initiative and continues to demonstrate his talents at world-building and writing character, although, naturally he ensures that Bruce/Batman (whereas his work on Detective Comics was generally more focused on the extended Bat-family) are front and centre whilst providing significant roles for both Selina (their renewed romance no doubt to be given greater attention in Tom King’s forthcoming Batman/Catwoman maxi-series) and Lucius – who has some fun interactions with Batman as a formidable new addition to the Dark Knight’s arsenal is teased.

Tony S. Daniel returns to the pages of Batman as a regular artist after sporadic collaborations during Tom King’s run.  A veteran Batman artist and writer himself, Daniel provides bold and dynamic visuals – complemented by Danny Miki’s inks and Tomeu Morey’s colours – that are an ideal match for Tynion’s writing and make the duo a great pairing.  Daniel maintains the grand and cinematic scope expected of the premiere Bat-book and is especially effective in rendering the pacey action scenes, the energetic and brutal encounter with Deathstroke being the obvious highlight.

A promising start, Batman #86 closes with a short epilogue that continues building on the threads of that inaugural mini chapter in #85, with Guillem March on the art.  March’s work is in a pleasingly not-too-dissimilar style to Tony Daniel and there’s a further sense of continuity and consistency thanks to Tomeu Morey once again providing colours.

The bottom line:  James Tynion IV, joined by pencillers Tony S. Daniel and Guillem March, delivers a solid and engaging beginning as a new and promising run on DC’s Batman commences.

Batman #86 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).

Comic Review: ‘Superman #18’

Change is afoot for the Man of Steel… 

Superman #18

Cover art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  Ivan Reis / inks by:  Joe Prado / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

“The Truth” : after facing the lies and secrets of his father, Superman makes the ultimate decision and reveals himself to the world…

In review

After months of teasing by DC and writer Brian Michael Bendis, Superman #18 sees the Man of Steel come to the ultimate decision and reveal his true identity to the world.  A gutsy move for sure and one that’s stirred – understandably – a lot of trepidation amongst the fan community but results in one of the most emotionally resonant and moving comic books to have been published in a long time.  Of course, the revelation that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same has occurred before – as recently as DC’s New 52 – but it has never felt more relevant and appropriate than it does here and despite the initial apprehension of the readership, it just feels right.  The character of Superman is a beacon of hope and an embodiment of those much vaunted values of truth and justice and in these all too often troubled times where people may be fearful of the future and where there can be great distrust in public figures and disappointment at the duplicitousness of those in power, the reveal is a genuine and honest step for the world’s greatest superhero to make.

Brian Michael Bendis provides an unwaveringly strong script that keeps things very much on a personal level with plenty of emotional grounding and a healthy dose of moral debate as Superman/Clark considers the weight and possible outcomes of his decision.  Bendis makes a strong case for what on the surface is a risky choice, Superman’s conversation with Adam Strange facilitating the bulk of the argument.  Bendis retains his trademark style of snappy dialogue but not without undermining the seriousness of the situation, making the exchange both thought provoking and fun.  In the end it feels right and true because of what the Last Son of Krypton has endured in recent times – most specifically the actions of his father Jor-El and the dark secrets he kept, playing a significant role in Clark’s resolution.

Whilst this issue is framed by the press conference in which Superman’s reveal is made (scenes which felt in some way reminiscent of the United Nations sequence in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, carrying that same sense of nobility and highlighting the inherent “goodness” associated with the character – there’s also a neat little nod to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns elsewhere in the book), Bendis takes time to show things very much from Clark’s perspective and understands the importance of those close to him as he chooses to reveal the truth to certain others before going public.  One such moment is executed exceptionally well and without dialogue, allowing the art to tell a specific part of the story more effectively than any series of words could.

Speaking of the art, Ivan Reis (together with his collaborators Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair on inks and colours, respectively) returns after a short break and produces some of his best work – beyond the usual quality in layouts and character, Reis contributes a great deal to the storytelling especially in helping to convey the emotion of the narrative with highly intricate and expressive faces and body language enhancing the spirit of Bendis’ script.

Superman #18 is arguably a masterpiece and although not everyone may be pleased with such a significant change in status quo, Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t take things lightly and opens up a world of possibilities as readers are left with a hint of what the consequences are going to be and how it will shape the future for Superman and the DC Universe.

The bottom line:  A bold new chapter in the history of Superman begins as Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis deliver an engaging and emotional story that upholds the positive virtues of the character.

Superman #18 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).

Comic Review: ‘Daredevil’ #11

Chip Zdarsky’s run on ‘Daredevil’ returns to form…

Daredevil #11 (2019)

Cover art by Julian Totino Tedesco (image credit: Marvel Comics).

 

Written by:  Chip Zdarsky / art by:  Marco Checchetto / colours by:  Nolan Woodard

What’s it about?

“Through Hell”, Part I: as the NYPD continues its crackdown on masked vigilantes, Matt Murdock faces his ongoing remorse for the death of an innocent and finds he must heed the warnings of an old face…

In review

Writer Chip Zdarsky (whose most recent Marvel works include Marvel Two-In-One, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man and Invaders) continues his run on Daredevil with issue #11 (of volume 6, the comic’s legacy numbering being #623) which marks the beginning of the next story arc and the return of Marco Checchetto on art duties.  Although this is the first instalment of “Through Hell”, it’s not really an ideal jumping on point for new readers as it builds on the events established in this Daredevil series thus far, but luckily it’s early enough to catch up but please note that some spoilers will follow.

Going in to “Through Hell”, Matt Murdock is in a relatively low place – having abandoned his Daredevil persona (albeit continuing to answer his calling to help others) after causing an accidental death and succumbing to an affair with a member of the Libris crime family he has lost his way.  In the wake of Daredevil’s absence, copycat vigilantes have been filling the void and Daredevil #11 opens as a DD impersonator (his true identity a neat twist that only complicates Matt’s situation further) intervenes in an impending assault – only to be hindered by the arrival of the Police, currently enacting a policy of zero tolerance in an effort to crackdown on masked vigilantes.  Otherwise, this issue is, given the Man Without Fear’s status quo, light on Daredevil action but that in no way makes it uninteresting.  There’s a lot going on here and Chip Zdarsky not only has a good handle on Matt Murdock and various characters (all of who he juggles admirably, along with the various subplots without creating a mess) such as the Kingpin and the Owl but also sets the right tone for Daredevil which, although on the face of it seems bleak, is always strongest when dealing with the darker, more adult elements of the character and the brutal world of Hell’s Kitchen.  It’s always more interesting when we see Matt in a hole and how a writer eventually drags him into the light and there’s a sense that Chip Zdarsky has plenty up his sleeve.

The most significant moment for Matt in Daredevil #11 is his encounter with Elektra (the point at which Zdarsky left readers in the last issue) which demonstrates his loss of focus in the current circumstances, the death of an innocent weighing heavily on his soul and as Elektra points out has ‘softened’ him, a situation which his ex-lover warns is going to lead to his death if he doesn’t get a grip and accept Elektra’s offer to retrain him in the teachings of their mentor, Stick.  The main highlight in this issue however is the appearance of Spider-Man, drawn into a trap by Detective Cole that our Friendly Neighbourhood hero skilfully turns on his pursuer.  Again, Zdarsky nails the character of Marvel’s Webslinger perfectly (no doubt aided by his experience of writing Spider-Man comics previously), balancing the action with the wisecracks and a healthy dose of pathos as Spidey debates the virtues of justice and the need for masked heroes to save lives in a place where the law just isn’t enough.  It’s a wonderfully well-written and thought-provoking exchange that’s made even more enjoyable as Zdarsky utilises the one-hour dissolve of Spider-Man’s webbing to nifty effect.

Artist Marco Checchetto makes a welcome return to Daredevil (along with colourist Nolan Woodard), sorely missed since issue #5 and returning the book to its previous visual glory which was diminished greatly during the previous arc (although the stellar Jorge Fornes was a sublime fill-in for last issue) which was arguably beginning to hurt the book.  Checchetto’s style is the perfect match for the dynamics of Zdarsky’s script, establishing the mood and rendering some exciting action scenes, particularly in those Spider-Man sequences.  Here’s hoping that Checchetto can remain onboard for a longer stretch this time.

The bottom line:  Daredevil #11 is a solid and satisfying issue of the series in which Chip Zdarsky continues to build his ongoing narrative, enhanced by the return of artist Marco Checchetto and a nicely executed guest appearance from Spider-Man.

Daredevil #11 is published by Marvel Comics 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).

Comic Review: ‘Batman/Superman’ #1

The greatest team-up in comics returns…

Batman Superman #1.jpg

Cover art by David Marquez (image credit: DC Comics).

 

Written by:  Joshua Williamson / art by:  David Marquez / colours by:  Alejandro Sanchez

What’s it about?

Batman and Superman unite to grapple with the deranged Dark Multiverse villain, the Batman Who Laughs as he transforms their comrades into ‘the Infected’, his horrifying horsemen…

In review

Spilling out of the pages of the recent The Batman Who Laughs mini-series (by writer/artist duo Scott Snyder and Jock), Joshua Williamson, current writer of DC’s The Flash, teams up with artist David Marquez (who previously worked on Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man and Civil War II) for a new Batman/Superman series, a title that’s been sorely missing in the post-Rebirth era of the DC Universe.

Given that this first arc takes it’s lead from The Batman Who Laughs, pitting the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel against the terrifying schemes of the twisted Dark Multiverse Batman, Batman/Superman #1 has a more gothic, horror infused tone to it than previous Bat/Supes team-up books and although that may leave it ‘feeling’ more like a Batman comic in some respects, it’s immediately clear that Joshua Williamson is perfectly suited as writer of the series.  Williamson quickly proves adept at handling the big two of DC’s pantheon, ensuring the focus is equally split whilst demonstrating an understanding of the established (and expected) traits and qualities of each character and the dynamics of their relationship, given the differences in viewpoints.  Most of these explorations occur via the dual narration/monologues that run throughout the book, although this is nothing new in any iteration of Batman/Superman (or Superman/Batman as it was before the New 52), it is part of the creative make-up of the title and really gives the reader a feel for what motivates the heroes and reasoning as to why, despite their opposing views and methods in the pursuit of justice, Batman and Superman continue to be allies – and more importantly, brothers.

As with any debut issue, there’s a certain amount of exposition in Batman/Superman #1 in order to establish the characters and the main narrative, but Williamson manages to keep things relatively tight, coherent and moving at a steady pace – the central plot and the investigations by Batman and Superman building gently throughout, drawing the reader into the action neatly without it rushing the story along or hindering its momentum.  It’s unfortunate that DC spoiled the closing twist of the book in their marketing but whether you’re familiar with that or not, the issue remains a gripping and suspenseful read.

Making the move from Marvel Comics to DC, David Marquez produces superlative visuals, rendering powerful characters and cinematic layouts – adding an ever so slight element of grit to his beautifully detailed pencils that’s fitting for the tone of the comic, keeping it moody and atmospheric in all the right places whilst creating exciting and clearly staged action scenes.

The bottom line:  It’s been too long since we’ve had a Batman/Superman comic and it’s off to a confident and reassuring start under the perfectly matched creative team of Joshua Williamson and David Marquez.

Batman/Superman #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).

It’s a Classic: ‘Batman: Year One’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“From this moment on…none of you are safe”

Batman Year One

An example of the amazing artwork for ‘Batman: Year One’ by David Mazzucchelli (image credit: DC Comics).

Year:  1987

Written by:  Frank Miller / art by:  David Mazzucchelli / colours by:  Richmond Lewis

What’s it about?

As Gotham City faces endless crime and corruption, billionaire Bruce Wayne decides to adopt the vigilante persona of ‘the Batman’ and soon learns he may have an ally in Gotham Police Lieutenant James Gordon…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Subsequent to the culture shattering success of The Dark Knight Returns, “Year One” is Frank Miller’s other – no less significant – seminal Batman work.  Originally published as a four-part story arc in Batman (volume 1) issues #404-407 and collected numerously over the past thirty years, Batman: Year One, as the title suggests, chronicles the Dark Knight’s first year of crime-fighting in Gotham City.  Written by Miller, with art by David Mazzucchelli (who also collaborated with Miller on the iconic Daredevil story “Born Again”) and colours by Richmond Lewis, Year One is a perfect companion piece to The Dark Knight Returns.  Although Year One is a more grounded and less politically charged affair than that former work (which takes place out of the regular continuity in an alternate 1980s), there is a clear sense that they share the same DNA.

A Batman tale infused with influences of detective noir and classic crime fiction, Year One (which itself would go on to influence director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins) sees the return of Bruce Wayne to his home after several years away, discovering that things have only gotten worse as criminal gangs – spearheaded by mob boss Carmine Falcone aka “The Roman” – and dishonest officials feed the societal decay afflicting the people of Gotham City.  Whilst Year One depicts the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s rise as the Batman, it’s equally a story about future police commissioner James Gordon, newly transferred to the Gotham City Police Department who, faced with a corrupt police system and bent colleagues on the take, fights to preserve the values of the good and freely practice the true and trusted responsibilities of law enforcement.  Miller deftly builds and intertwines this dual narrative as destiny draws both Wayne and Gordon together – kindred souls on different sides of legality ultimately battling for the same cause.

Batman Year One (2)

More of David Mazzucchelli’s incredible art (image credit: DC Comics).

What is especially appealing about Year One is that Miller is not afraid to explore the frailties of the central heroes, which only makes the characters richer and more relatable.  Bruce continues to be haunted by the murder of his parents, his anger fuelling his war on crime and the actions he undertakes as he becomes a feared creature of the night.  He’s far less brutal than the elder and more grizzled man he is in The Dark Knight Returns (and in fact commits several heroic acts in the story, including saving the life of Gordon’s son) but the seeds are planted here.  Gordon himself is inherently a decent man working hard to protect all that he loves and values but despite being a devoted husband and father succumbs to an affair with his GCPD partner, Sarah.  Selina Kyle is less clear cut, a prostitute and thief who decides enough is enough and that those less fortunate need not fear the criminal gang hierarchy as she begins to adopt a certain feline-fatale vigilante persona of her own.

Year One is beautifully realised by David Mazzucchelli (whose Bruce Wayne bares a nifty resemblance to Hollywood legend Gregory Peck) with a clean, classic pulp style that’s moodily enhanced by the nuances of Richmond Lewis’s colour palette, giving the visuals an appropriate film-noir appearance.  It’d also be remiss not to mention the lettering by Tod Klein, which is especially effective in the monologues, adding to the poetic quality of Miller’s writing all making for one of the all-time greatest Batman stories.

Standout moment

Injured and forced into the basement of a dilapidated building, Batman faces capture as a SWAT team closes in on him…but they didn’t reckon on his ingenuity as he calls for ‘backup’.

Geek fact!

Ben Mackenzie, who portrayed James Gordon in Batman prequel series Gotham provided the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 2011 animated adaptation of Year One.

If you like this then check out…

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns : considered by many as Frank Miller’s magnum opus that’s not just a phenomenal, operatic Batman story but also a landmark in comics and pop culture.

Batman: The Killing Joke : Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s iconic Joker story is a stark, shocking and dramatic affair and presents a possible origin for the homicidal and psychotic Clown Prince of Crime.

All images herein remain the property of the copyright owners and are used for illustrative purposes only.

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).