Batman and Robin Eternal #18 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 4/5 – Some Key Revelations About Harper Row Becoming Bluebird.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

When Batman and Robin was first announced, it was with the promise that the story and revelations would shake up and shock the Bat-Family. Now eighteen issues in, most of those big revelations have been revealed and we’re moving closer and closer to the conclusion. Batman and Robin Eternal has had its ups and downs as have most of DC’s weekly series, but this issue is one of my favorites despite stretching out of some storylines that felt as though they’re longer than they need be to pad the weekly schedule.

My favorite plot line in this issue revolves around a glimpse to the past dealing with Cassandra Cain and Harper Row. Batman Eternal at its core has been about the “Robins”, or the sidekicks, in Batman’s life. Writers James Tynion IV and Scott Snyder continue the story with Ed Brisson scripting this particular issue and we’re thrown right into the action with the continuation of last week’s fight scene between Batman and Orphan. It’s well choreographed and entertaining with some solid Scot Eaton art, but since it continues from last issue it feels as though it’s gone on too long. The key moments in this issue are some pretty powerful revelations in regards to just how Harper Row became the Bluebird, and Cassandra Cain’s role in it. With the foundation that Tynion IV and Snyder have laid out, it’s a powerful reveal that makes this one of the must read issues of the series for people interested in the Harper Row character!

On the flip side, and this may be more of a critique of the series itself, the issues leading up to this point haven’t been all that enjoyable with appearances by Azrael, Scarecrow and others that have slowed the series’ momentum and created a much larger threat that isn’t nearly as compelling as the “smaller” story of Harper Row, Cassandra and the series’ main antagonist, Mother. As a single issue this was a great read, but it’s tough to review this issue on it’s own since the weekly releases doesn’t allow any easy jumping-on points, and I don’t think the past three to six issues have been nearly as strong. I’m hoping that this series can end on a high point and still have some big reveals.  Since I’m this far in, I’ll be staying till the end, but I don’t see this as a series to jump onto in the middle.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Victorie City #2 (IDW)

Victorie2

CREDIT: IDW

Rating: 3/5 – A Normally Natural Supernatural Crime Story…So Far.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Victorie City is billed as a hunt for the killer behind a series of supernatural murders.  After 2 issues (released 1 week apart on January 27th and February 3rd) and what seemed to me to be a fairly standard murder story we finally get to what may be the introduction of the supernatural element on the last page of issue #2.  This kind of “slow burn” is the kind of thing that makes for a better read in a collected edition, though having the issues released weekly instead of monthly makes it a bit easier to swallow in reading this in single issue format.

The story by Keith Carmack jumps around a lot.  We have scenes with the killer on trial and in jail, and the detective who arrested him in issue #1 tracking down leads for another case and going about his personal life.  Transitioning between different story elements is an extremely common storytelling technique, and something I normally take in stride, but for some reason it really felt distracting in this story.  There were a lot of visual elements competing for my attention in this series. The art by Vincent Nappi is very loose, it’s in the stylistic tradition of Ashley Wood or Ben Templesmith.  Washed out mostly monochromatic color schemes differentiate the scenes, and perhaps that’s an element that lead to the jarring affect the story had on me.  This is a technique I’ve seen before and had it enhance the storytelling for me, but it didn’t seem to be having a positive effect on my reading experience in this series.  The lettering, by Jessi Adrignola, was also a front-of-mind concern in the story and one of the elements that worked best for me.   The key characters had their own distinctive lettering and word balloon styles.  It gave me another visual cue about the speaker and added tonality to their speech, particularly the styles used for killer Braham Allvar and Detective Hektor.

At the end of 2 issues this “supernatural” story seems pretty “normally natural” to me with the sole exception of the last page of issue #2.  There is a normal thru-line of the noble detective bucking a corrupt department and being punished for it while trying to seek out justice.  There is a heinous killer who is successfully pained as a thoroughly unsavory character.  Pulling this all together and tacking on the supernatural element seems almost superfluous to the story by 2 issues into the series.  It seems like this could have been told as a straight crime story without the supernatural element.  That said, I want to be sensitive about not knocking the story for being what it is instead of what I think it should be.  I think it will read better in a single chunk, at least for me.  Given that it’s a weekly series, it would be relatively easy to collect up the issues and read them in a single sitting, or just wait for the collected edition which should be along in a few months.  While it’s on the racks it’s worth flip[ping through if your shop has any copies if only to see how the art and design elements strike you.  I think this is a series that people will either take to immediately from a visual standpoint, or else be put off by it.  That’s not good or bad, it’s just the subjective nature of art appreciation.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Pencil Head #1 (Image)

PencilHead1

CREDIT: Image Comics

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Look at the Seedy but Humorous Underbelly of Comics.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

Pencil Head takes a look at an off-center and decidedly twisted world of Ted McKeever’s creation, following the tortured comics creator Poodwaddle.  Poodwaddle seems to be McKeever’s avatar in this story that looks at a seedy and somewhat humorous underbelly of the comics industry.

Poodwaddle has deadlines to meet, a boorish editor and  eager fanboy-turned-assistant at the company he’s working for, and another sleazy editor trying to poach him for a competitor.  That’s only the start of the fun as Poodwaddle traverses strip clubs and subways as things start to get a little strange(r).   Look at the cover of this comic and you’ll see exactly what’s inside and it needs to be seen to be appreciated.  Pencil Head is unlike any other comic you’ll find on the racks and that’s a wonderful thing from my point of view, I’m always on the lookout for comics that bring the “different”.

McKeever’s art is exaggerated and humorous, as a result Pencil Head won’t be for everyone.  For people like myself who are fans of his unique form of comics expression, this series is a treat.  Coarse language and locations like a strip club make this a mature readers title, so keep that in mind if you’re easily offended.  That said, it’s right up my alley so I loved it.  There was a decidedly dark twist near the end and I’m looking forward to seeing how McKeever weaves it into the story next issue.  I’m on board for this 5 issue exploration of McKeever’s bizarre reflection of the world behind the scenes of the comics.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Faith #1 (Valiant)

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CREDIT: Valiant

Rating: 3.5/5 – A Fan-Favorite Soars Into Her Own Mini-Series
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo

One of the things that I believe Valiant does well as a comic company is release only 8 or 9 titles a month. This lets the budget-conscious fan enjoy the entire, shared universe, while Valiant gradually and methodically builds that universe. A couple of these monthly releases are typically reserved for Valiant to showcase new concepts and events, allowing the company to experiment with ideas and rotate its growing cast of characters. The mmost recent new series is the much anticipated and publicized mini-series that focuses on fan-favorite Faith Herbert. Although much of the press has been fixated on Faith’s weight, long time fans know her as the optimistic, good-natured, pop-culture loving heart of Valiant’s superhero universe. I count myself as one of those fans that really dig this character and I’ve been very much looking forward to her turn in the spotlight.

Valiant newcomer Jody Houser takes the reins from long time Faith writer Joshua Dysart to document this solo adventure. She spins a tale that is new reader friendly, bringing us up to speed on everything that has hitherto happened to this heroine, while setting up Faith’s new status quo. Although in many ways Faith is an atypical hero, the set-up is very much grounded in classic superhero lore, right down to her secret identity. Faith is a comic fan herself, so it makes sense that she’s having a bit of fun with her superhero persona. For long time Valiant fans, there are many continued plot points and guest stars to make this mini-series fit squarely into the tight fitting continuity they love. That being said, I thought the plot was somewhat lackluster and a lot of the charm and heart that Dysart was able to infuse into Faith was missing. It could just be me subconsciously playing the comparison game, but I didn’t think that Houser handled the character as deftly as Dysart. Still, it’s just the first part of a 4-issue mini-series and it did include a lot of set-up, so I’m willing to admit that it was likely just a case of my anticipation and expectations getting the better of me.

If Valiant has anything close to an art “house style,” then Francis Portela’s art is a great example – clean lines, standard paneling, and plenty of medium shots. He draws a couple of stand out panels, but the art remains otherwise standard fare. Marguerite Sauvage provides a couple pages of “fantasy art” (when Faith daydreams about her heroics) that are different, but fit almost seamlessly with Portela’s art. I really enjoy her style and I think she could have done a fantastic job penciling the entire series. I hope we get to see more of her art as Faith continues to daydream. She’s been drawing some beautiful covers for Valiant and other comic companies lately and I’m quickly becoming a big fan.

This first issue of Faith is a solid reintroduction to the character and a good jumping on point for anyone who is curious about the buzz surrounding this character. As a longtime fan, I’m happy to see Faith brought to the forefront, even as I know there is much more to her than this single issue lets on. I’m looking forward to seeing where Houser takes the story and how she develops the character. As much as I know and love Faith, there is much more to be explored and I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
(adam@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Devolution #1 (Dynamite)

Devolution1

CREDIT: Dynamite

Rating: 4/5 – The Rick Remender Comic Remender Fans may have missed.
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

Rick Remender 1st hit my radar with a series of great creator-owned series like Sea of Red, Strange Girl, and Fear Agent.  He hit a lot of people’s radar with his work at Marvel that included runs on Punisher, Uncanny X-Force, Venom, Uncanny Avengers, and Captain America (among others).  Once he had a fan base, he moved back focusing on creator-owned projects, drawing fans along from his Marvel books to more creator-owned projects at Image like Black Science, Deadly Class, Low, and Tokyo Ghost.  Remender’s latest creation is Devolution over at Dynamite, and it may not have registered with a lot of his fans since Dynamite has a smaller market share than Image and doesn’t get quite the same level of indie comic-fan “buzz”.

Devolution is well worth checking out.  The premise is full of some interesting political hot-button concepts.  It spins out of the oft-stated “religion has been a root cause of more war and suffering than any other single thing in human history” and runs with it.  A biological agent is created to target and devolve the part of the human brain that allows for belief in God.  Things go horribly awry, as they often do in these kinds of stories, and there is a general devolution of people and animals across the globe.

We actually start the story in the thick of the action, with the premise above covered a few pages into the story.  We’re introduced to a kick-ass protagonist, Raja, one of the few homo sapiens left, as she runs afoul of a group of neanderthal looking brutes.  Remender does a great job, as usual, in building up characters that I care about.  He fleshes out Raja and sets up an intriguing situation that retreads standard “post-apocalyptic roving bands of survivors trying to eke out an existence” tropes, but does so while holding my attention and interest throughout the issue.  The art by Jonathan Wayshak really hit me right with just the right mix of detail and fuzzy-around-the-edges charm.  Gritty, dirty, somewhat sketchy in places, and an absolutely perfect match for the story.  Wayshak is new to the scene, at least I couldn’t find other comics he’s done, and I’m looking forward to following his career.  This guys is on my radar now as someone to watch.

If you’re a fan of Rick Remender in particular or post-apocalyptic tales with a slightly off-beat twist and a soupcon of humor in general, Devolution is a book to check out.  You may need to ask your shop to get you a copy if they don’t normally stock Dynamite, but you could be glad you did.  Check out Jonathan Wayshak’s art for the series on Nerdist.com and see if you like it as much as I do.  This was a book where I wanted to check out the 1st issue before committing to the series, it has earned a spot on my pull list, I’m looking forward to seeing where Remender and Wayshak take me form here.

Reviewed by: Bob Bretall
(bob@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Old Man Logan #1 (Marvel)

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CREDIT: Marvel

Rating: 3.5/5 – Wolverine is Dead in the New MarvelU, but Logan Isn’t.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

I really enjoyed the Old Man Logan storyline that appeared in the pages of Wolverine back in the late 2000s. Written by Mark Millar with art by Steve McNiven, it was a story set in an alternate future where the villains had combined their forces to wipe out the earth’s heroes. Villains like the Red Skull, Mysterio and more plagued Wolverine and the heroes until a tragic event caused Logan to go into hiding and vow to never unsheathe his claws again, effectively destroying the hero Wolverine, but leaving the “Old Man Logan”.

In the recent Secret Wars event, Old Man Logan returned with a new creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Andrea Sorrentino.  On this new ongoing series, writer Jeff Lemire has taken over from Bendis, but Sorrentino remains on art as we get to see Logan on the new Prime Earth, which is the new main Marvel Universe. Lemire has Logan disoriented at the beginning of this issue as he comes to grips with just where he is, and then realizing he now has a chance to save the Earth and set things right. Lemire shows us Logan in the present, but smartly walks us through the past as well showing us Logan’s time on the alternate Earth. This past allows new readers who may not have read the series from eight years ago to get to know Logan, and see what will motivate his actions as this series goes along.

Sorrentino’s art is the same stylized art we’ve come to expect from him. Shadows and heavy black lines dominate and he’s always able to tell a story effectively. His style may not be for everyone, but it works for me here. There’s some really great splash pages that show both the present and past, especially a nod to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight that’s even signed “After Miller” on the page. My complaint with the art is with the colors, because at times it looks washed out. It definitely contributes to the signature look of Sorrentino’s art, but not always in the best way. I was definitely able to look past the occasional washed out colors and enjoy the story and art, especially the ending that shows just where this series is headed. Wolverine may be dead in the Marvel Universe, but we’re still getting a series about this Logan, and so far it’s a good one.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Cry Havoc #1 (Image)

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CREDIT: Image

Rating: 5/5 – Colors and Art Add Substance to Spurrier’s Story.
By ComicSpectrum senior reviewer’s Shawn Hoklas.

Cry Havoc is complicated in its set up and creative narrative, but at the same time it’s extremely easy to read and is an exciting new premier for Image. It’s written by Simon Spurrier and has art by the talented Ryan Kelly. Just as important as those two creative talents are the colorists, and there’s three of them. Last year I reviewed a Dark Horse mini series called Ei8ht that used colors to define the structure of it’s storytelling, and here Cry Havoc does something similar to great effect. Colorists Matt Wilson, Lee Loughridge and Nick Filardi use their skills to add another layer to Cry Havoc’s story, and it works in a way that adds to the story instead of complicating it.

Cry Havoc is tough to explain if you were trying to pitch the story to a new reader. A young woman who also happens to be a werewolf travels with a group of power infused military personnel into Afghanistan to search for another woman who has werewolf-like powers, and has used them violently in an act of war. Not only that, but there’s also a love story between main character Lou (female) and her girlfriend that’s just as interesting as the main story. What makes the storytelling even more unique is the way the story is told.

Lee Loughridge opens the story with deep and powerful reds where the story takes place in the future. Heavy blues and purples define the love story, while browns and slightly messy colors define the story in Afghanistan. It all works and although Loughridge’s colors are the star of the show, the rest of the colors all do a great job of defining the world and timeframes of Cry Havoc. Ryan Kelly’s art is just as great as the colors, and his artistic style changes enough for each timeline that you’d almost think there’s multiple artists on the book. I haven’t even mentioned the design, the logo (chaotically inverting the A and V in Havoc) and the cover of the book, but these are all as wonderful as the story itself. Cry Havoc kicks off 2016 with an amazing start and I can’t wait to read this book throughout the rest of the year.

Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
(shawn@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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