Young Monsters in Love #1 (DC)

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Great Creators, but a Hefty Cover Price.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Young Monsters in Love is a collection of short stories by a bunch of talented creators. Kelley Jones, Bryan Hitch, Paul Dini, Frazer Irving, Steve Orlando, and many more tell ten stories starring a wide assortment of characters from Batman and Superman (of course) to some surprising stars like I, Vampire, Etrigan the Demon, and even the Creature Commandos. As strong as some stories are, there’s more than a few that just missed the mark for me, but lets start with the good!

My favorite tale in this issue stars Swamp Thing and is written by Mark Russell and drawn by Frazer Irving. Swamp Thing has found love, but it doesn’t work out the way he planned and a tragedy occurs that makes Swamp Thing enact a dark yet clever revenge. Irving’s art is perfect for the story and the setting in Louisiana provides an eerie backdrop for Swamp Thing to fade into.

A close second is the first story of the book starring Man-Bat and Batman. Kyle Higgins and Kelley Jones team to tell a story about Kirk Langstrom struggling to free himself of the Man-Bat curse. Jones’ art stands out with its dark colors and his interpretation of Man-Bat is frightening! My only complaint with Jones’ art is I wish he would have also told a story around his cover art! I would have loved to have seen Frankenstein going up against Swamp Thing, but I’m glad we got the story we did.

Rounding out my favorites is a story titled “Be My Valentine” by Paul Dini and Guillem March. Deadman inhabits a young boy who’s being bullied at school. Instead of this being a simple revenge tale, Dini adds an extra layer to the story that makes it even more memorable.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the negatives, but some of the misses for me were the stories starring I, Vampire, Raven, and Etrigan. What you’ll have to decide though is if all these stories are worth the $10 price tag. For me, I wouldn’t pay cover price for this issue at a shop, my copy was heavily discounted because I ordered it from DCBS. Although I enjoyed more than half the tales in this book, I still don’t think the stories I loved were worth the hefty price tag.  This is a common trait of anthologies, I don’t know about your experience with them but I rarely like all the stories so I have to factor the cover price against the content that I enjoyed.  Because of that, I can only recommend this if you can find it for less than cover price at some point.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Swamp Thing Winter Special #1 (DC)

CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 5/5 – A Wonderful Tribute to Swamp Thing and Creator Len Wein.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

It could be argued that artist Jason Fabok is DC’s go to artist. He’s been the artist on DC’s flagship title Justice League along with Geoff Johns and had a popular run on Batman in Detective Comics. So when it was announced that he’d be doing a Swamp Thing one-shot that pays tribute to the character’s creator Len Wein, I couldn’t be happier. Not only that, but again the argument could be made that Tom King is DC’s hottest writer so this a fantastic combination on a character that in my opinion, deserves a creative duo of this caliber. It feels great to say that they absolutely deliver in both categories, and Len Wein would be proud!

Each page is a wonderful sight and Fabok uses all sorts of creative panel layouts to tell a captivating tale that has Swamp Thing protecting a young boy from the harshness of winter. Swamp Thing is out of his element as the freezing temperatures and snow have disconnected him from the Green. Fabok does a wonderful job of capturing the Swamp Thing’s diminishing form as he goes from a healthy and lush green at the beginning, to a worn and withered brown towards the end. It’s clear that Fabok has a love for the character and although he does not directly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with classic Swamp Thing artists like Bernie Wrightson or John Totleben, I loved his take on the character.

Not only are we treated to Fabok’s art on the main Tom King story, we also get a second story that was the planned first issue of the continuation of Len Wein and Kelley Jones’ Swamp Thing mini series from last year that was started prior to Wein’s unfortunate passing away. There is a foreword to the story that explains why there’s no dialogue and I completely understand why it was done this way, at the same time, I think the story suffers for it. Jones’ art is of course beautiful and haunting and he has such a creative way of detailing Swamp Thing’s powers and although the story didn’t connect with me, I’m glad that DC chose to publish it. Overall, this is a must read and a fitting tribute to Wein and makes me wish for a Swamp Thing ongoing. Read this book!

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Incredible Hulk #712 (Marvel)

Incredible_Hulk712

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Thor: Ragnarok’s Hulk v. Thor Battle Makes its Way (in Spirit) to the Comics.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Brunell

Amadeus Cho had decided to make a trip to Planet Hulk, thinking it was the best option for himself because he is questioning if he truly can control his meaner greener side, The Hulk. His trip lands him on the Red Planet and straight into the shadow of Bruce Banner’s Hulk. One side of the people want to praise him like he is the Green Scar coming home, but the other side wants him dead. Regardless of what Bruce Banner did on his time on the planet, or even what Skaar had done, everything seems to come full circle. There is a new Red Warlord that decides whether you live or die, the people wanting an ordinary life, and a hero / monster to save them all.

Amadeus Cho has been fighting as the people’s champion of Sakaar for several rounds now, if he makes it through 5 rounds the people he defends can go free. The Warlord testing Amadeus is trying everything he can to stop the green giant from succeeding. Lickspit, one of the Warlord’s obedient servants is calling down beings from the whole in the sky to battle Amadeus. After numerous attempts, Lickspit has found a worthy opponent, The Unworthy Thor. It’s the matchup we saw in the movie Thor: Ragnarok, but of course, this is set in comic book continuity so is not really the same thing except in spirit.

Writer Greg Pak pulls readers in with an action packed drama, on one hand Amadeus is fighting the Hulk within, but on Sakaar there are monsters everywhere to be fought. Dramatically there are lives on the line, but every issue is packed with new foes in the gladiator arena. Pak brings readers back to Sakaar and is letting us know isn’t the place to get better. War is the life of Sakaar and Amadeus is put right into the type of place he probably didn’t want to be in. When the fight gets heavy, Amadeus must make a choice to either stay safe and sane, or let his Hulk side take the wheel. Though the battle should come out as a big bold battle for the ages, it feels short lived. Odinson is fighting against his will, he’s being controlled, and regardless of how hard he tries to stop swinging his axe, he does’t seem to have the strength and pull away. The battle is more of a mental test for Amadeus, he doesn’t want to fight his friend, but if he doesn’t then not only will the people he is defending die, but he will die as well. Artist Greg Land toughens up the pages with some fierce art. Each panel, each swing of a fist or blade, is strong, Land kept me moving from page to page like I was watching a boxing match for the ages.

The Return to Planet Hulk story arc is not a long one, but I wish it was longer. Some of the comics feel rushed, but this story could keep going just as long as the original Planet Hulk story. The Hulk side of Amadeus might go in the direction that Bruce had gone by becoming the new ruler, but Amadeus most likely wouldn’t let that happen. Amadeus seems to be in better control of his Hulk self than Bruce was, and I still can’t tell which direction everything will go in the end. A great mystery is always appreciated, but Marvel has already teased the possibilities of a World War Hulk II story.  I’m loving Hulk right now, so I’m on board for whatever storyline follows this one.

Reviewed by: Adam Brunell
(adamb@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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X-Men: Grand Design #1-2 (Marvel)

X-Men Grand Design CR: Marvel

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Rating: 5/5 – Ed Piskor Superbly Summarizes X-Men up to GS #1
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

I try not to toss around words like “masterpiece” lightly, but if this guided tour to the history of the X-Men by Ed Piskor isn’t one, I don’t know what is.  Piskor is the principle illustrated historian working in comics today.  Like in his Eisner Award winning “Hip Hop Family Tree” for Fantagraphics, Piskor seems to have an uncanny ability to assimilate key points in time and weave them together into an entertaining narrative that both entertains and educates the reader.

The first two issues of X-Men Grand Design weave together events from the earliest days of mutants in the Marvel Universe up through the relaunch/recomposition of the team in Giant-Size X-Men #1. Piskor includes essential material that was only revealed through flashbacks sometimes decades later or in other series, but placing it into its proper chronological context in the pages of these comics.  Using his “faux browned pulp paper” background color these comics felt as though I was stepping back into the pages of old comics from the 60s and 70s.  Hopefully as he continues with the series up into the current day, he’ll switch to a white background as he covers events around the time they started using the high quality paper stock that does not age like this over time.  Other nice touches are acknowledgement pages listing the names of all the artists and writers who worked on comics with events that made it into the issues, as well as a bibliography with specific references to what issues the events depicted originally occurred in.

X-Men Grand Design covers “my X-Men”, the team that existed when I first started reading comics in the early 1970s.  Seeing the complete story of the X-Men told in chronological order was an absolute treat.  My fondest hope is that Piskor will be able to make me comprehend the X-Men’s history through the 1990s and 2000s where I drifted away from and lost track of their continuity as it became increasingly complicated and arcane.  I am eagerly looking forward to more issues of this series, though I understand that they are labor intensive and it will be quite a while before the next issue is available.  Whenever it does come out, I’ll be there buying it!

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/   By Fans who Love Comics for Fans who Love Comics

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Old Man Hawkeye #1 (Marvel)

CREDIT: Marvel

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Strong Prequel to Old Man Logan.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Old Man Hawkeye is a prequel to the immensely popular Old Man Logan story from close to ten years ago. In that original story, Logan and a blind Hawkeye travel the American wasteland that has been conquered by the villains who had finally teamed up to kill most of the Marvel heroes. Old Man Logan, whether you’re a fan of the story or not, could be considered a modern classic. I personally loved it and was excited to see that a new twelve issue series starring Hawkeye was going to be published giving us more insight into one of the main characters of that tale.

Writer Ethan Sacks is the mastermind behind this series and up till now, he’s only had one other work at Marvel (a short story in Secret Empire: Brave New World #3), spending a twenty year career with the Daily News. I’m surprised at just how well this story flows for someone with limited “comic book” writing experience. The story moves quickly with Hawkeye first learning that he’s going blind, which speeds up the mission he needs to complete that much more. If you’re not familiar with the original Old Man Logan storyline, then a lot of the story beats may not have the same impact, but I assume most people reading this have read what chronologically comes later.   Artist Marco Checchetto does an amazing job with the pencils in this issue. The storytelling is great and again, when you’re a fan of what the original story brought, seeing some of the nods to that series drawn by Checchetto is a treat. The colors fit the tone perfectly and there’s an especially violent scene that shows just how deadly Hawkeye can be, which is smartly choreographed with a perfect layout and panel choice.

I really enjoyed this first issue and am looking forward to what’s ahead. Although I know where this timeline ultimately leads, I’m excited to revisit this world and see another story told by a new group of creators using the characters and setting.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – The Storms of Crait #1 (Marvel)

CREDIT: Marvel

Rating: 4/5 – Answering Questions About a Setting from the Last Jedi.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

The Last Jedi left a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the movie which look as though they will be filled in by future comics, novels, etc. For example, there’s the big questions like just how did Snoke come to power and where are the Knights of Ren? As well as the smaller questions like just who is Benicio Del Toro’s character, and where did the base on the salt planet Crait come from? This second question is answered with this one-shot, Star Wars: The Last Jedi – The Storms of Crait.

This one-shot is written by both Ben Acker and Ben Blacker with some really pretty art by Mike Mayhew. The interesting thing about this one-shot is that it isn’t really a “Last Jedi” story. It’s set in the original trilogy timeline and to be honest, you’d be perfectly fine reading this without ever seeing the Last Jedi. It does give some backstory to the planet, but that’s about it. It definitely fits within the original trilogy canon as it stars Luke, Leia and Han, but I was hoping to see a bit more of a tie-in to what we just recently saw on screen.

Mayhew’s art captures the look of the main characters, and Leia looks photo realistic. That may turn some fans off, but I quite enjoyed it even though at times she looks real and Luke looks “drawn”. I’d definitely recommend reading this if you’re a fan, although it is by no means required reading and of all the questions left unanswered by the movie, this was probably the least interesting one. At the end of this issue there’s a preview of the next one-shot which shows Benicio Del Toro’s character behind bars. He was my least favorite character in the movie so I’m hoping that his one-shot can turn him into a character I enjoy.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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Astonishing X-Men #6 (Marvel)

rsz_astonishing

CREDIT: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – Dying Is Not Forever (in the MarvelU)
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Brunell

The “Life of X” storyline concludes in this issue; What a way to bring back the dead! I can’t remember the last time a writer brought back a key Marvel character with such an in-depth explanation like writer Charles Soule has done here. For 6 issues the momentum has been building to determine the Life of X, as promised by the title of the story arc.

Writer Charles Soule and artist Michael Del Mundo not only provide the dynamic and extensive story of a specific X-Men event, but just when everything feels like a traditional run of the mill story, Soule takes the road less traveled with the story, taking a group of well-known X-Men, possibly putting them on an international most wanted list for acts against humanity. Readers that have been following this series are aware that the group of mutants brought into this event would not come out unscathed. The actions of the team not only have caused an international incident, but have possibly pushed past the line of global terrorism by attacking a country’s military task force, and had a hand in the spread of a mental possessive virus from the Shadow King. On top of the criminal charges that these heroes face, there is also a major surprise at the end of the comic. Heroes come back to life in Marvel comics all the time, so it’s no big secret that a major character in the Marvel Universe is coming back as part of this story. The question of, “When is it happening?” is no longer a question, but readers are stuck with the question of “How is this happening?” Del Mundo’s art outlines the story beautifully, packing every page with emotion, and his layouts are vibrant and chaotic all in one.

How the “Life of X” resurrection was done made me do a double-take and go back a couple of pages to question if what I saw really just happened. One life is possibly relinquished to restore another, readers won’t completely know how this setup works until future issues, but needless to say Soule leaves a cliffhanger of an ending.  The actions from this series will most likely cause a ripple going forward for most X-Men titles and the mutants in the Marvel Universe.  Soule and Del Mundo created an emotional journey for their readers and I was happy to take the ride.

Reviewed by: Adam Brunell
(adamb@comicspectrum.com
)
http://comicspectrum.com/ By Fans who Love Comics For Fans who Love Comics

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