Loki: Agent of Asgard #12 (Marvel)

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CREDIT: Marvel

Rating: 4/5 – It’s Loki Against Loki.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

With the impending Secret Wars event closing in, many of Marvel’s titles will be ending or changing including Loki: Agent of Asgard. This issue of Loki is the penultimate chapter before changing over to “Last Days of Loki: Agent of Asgard”. In what’s been a very strong series that has had the longtime Thor baddie which includes the younger and older versions straddling the line between hero and villain, you get the sense that things are coming to a head with this series. In issue thirteen, we see the older and evil version of Loki telling the younger version how he’ll eventually “grow up” to become him, and there’s nothing he can do about it. It’s a strong issue that seems to be leading into what could be the series’ conclusion.

First of all, the art by Lee Garbett is extremely satisfying. The older version of Loki looks downright sinister. His wrinkled face has elongated and defining features that Garbett uses brilliantly to show Loki’s emotions and smug confidence in his victories. We also see scenes throughout Loki’s history and future that includes a wonderful half page splash of an Avengers team rising from their graves. It’s a fantastic panel that shows Garbett’s talents as well as just being a great looking image. Garbett is able to balance the serious tones of a scene like this and the light tones of a young Loki and Thor sharing a cup of mead throughout this issue that makes young Loki’s tale all that more tragic.

In terms of the writing, Al Ewing has written two different versions of Loki throughout this series and it’s the Loki that most fans are used to that gets the spotlight in this issue. Ewing will make you feel bad for the younger Loki as we see how he’s unable to escape the inevitable. We all know that he grows up not to be Loki: The Agent of Asgard, but Loki the god of mischief, trickery and lies. We see how this “title” affects Loki and his mindset. Although there’s a few references to other current Marvel titles like Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier and Angela that may leave some readers confused, the strength of the majority of this issue will make this seem like a minor complaint.

Although the future of this series is still up in the air post Secret Wars, it’s comforting to know that this isn’t quite the end for this version of Loki. Ewing and Garbett have created too smart a character to see him fade away. I’ll always prefer the more evil version of Loki over the “attempting to change his fate” Loki, but it’s made for a compelling read and an interesting take on a character trying to escape his predetermined fate. Loki is one of Marvel’s most powerful villains, and this issue and the series as a whole has been a great examination of just what makes him so treacherous.

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

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Jem and the Holograms #1 (IDW)

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CREDIT: IDW Publishing

Rating: 4/5 – Scintillating Showtime Synergy!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Amy Okamoto.

The original girl-power group Jem and The Holograms is back in this updated version of the beloved cartoon series from the 80s.  Largely an origin story, this issue introduces sisters Jerrica and Kimber, who along with their friends Aja and Shana, form The Holograms. The four girls are all close friends, and each has her own talents. Jerrica however, has crippling stage fright, and after several failed attempts to film a competition video, the band is ready to split up. Despite the tension that this causes, the underlying sense of family and caring is pervasive throughout the issue. You can’t help but like these plucky and relatable young women. When the group discovers the amazing legacy that their father has left them, they seize the opportunity to follow their dream of being a legitimate band.

Writer Kelly Thompson does a nice job of setting up a plausible reason why “Jem”, Jerrica’s holographic alter-ego, needs to exist. Artist Sophie Campbell’s characters are cuter than the originals and gives them a winsome quality. She does a good job of making them “act” which makes it easier to emphasize with them. Also notable is the characters’ diversity. They are more varied in body type, race, and sexual orientation than their 80s counterparts. Interestingly, Jerrica chooses to represent herself as a towering glamazon in the form of “Jem.” I found her more appealing as herself. There is an opportunity here for Thompson to create a commentary on celebrity and beauty ideals.

Although familiar with the concept, I’m new to Jem. When the cartoon debuted back in 1986, I was already firmly ensconced in idolizing Sonic Youth and Kim Gordon. The girlish cartoon band didn’t appeal then. The creators of the comic are hoping to reach a new generation as well as nostalgic fans. That in mind, after reviewing it myself, I tested the book out on my seven year old daughter. Other than a couple of words that I don’t want her to use, the book was child-friendly. She enjoyed the story and didn’t have any problem following the plot line. Jerrica is already her favorite character but she liked all of the young women. The colorful and pretty artwork was appealing to her as was the holographic title on the cover. When we finished reading, she immediately wanted to know when the next issue is coming out. I haven’t seen her this excited about a comic since My Little Pony debuted.

After the initial storyline, each of the characters is treated to her own spotlight page of facts. This was a quick way to get up to speed on who these ladies are, and it was a big hit with my daughter. The next issue introduces rival band The Misfits, and I hope that they will be treated with the same spotlight review.

Jem and The Holograms #1 debuts as a solid reboot of the 80s cartoon. With its vivid art and winning characters, this eye-catching book will appeal to both new readers and old fans. If the story lines and dialogue continue to be all-age accessible, IDW will have a hit with this musical group.

Reviewed by: Amy Okamoto
(amy@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Chrononauts #1 (Image)

chrono

CREDIT: Image

Rating: 4/5 – A Trip Through Time Improved by Sean Murphy’s Art.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

Well it didn’t take long for Chrononauts to be picked up for a possible movie adaption. Just this week it was announced that Universal has optioned the rights to Mark Millar’s latest entry into his MillarWorld line of books. Published by Image Comics, Chrononauts is a pretty straight forward story that becomes something truly special because of the art. Time travel stories have been told before in plenty of different ways, but Sean Murphy’s art makes this book an absolute must read despite the predictable writing.

Sean Murphy is a special kind of talent. His pencils on first glance seem razor thin, then on closer inspection you can see that he also uses blacks and shadows to perfection giving his art weight and dimension. As the story opens, Chrononaut Corbin Quinn investigates a thousands of years old cave inexplicably housing a 1970s fighter jet. The detail is amazing from the picturesque landscape of the deserts of Turkey, to the insides of the cave and the intricacies of the fighter plane. And it only gets better from there! Murphy pours the details into the technology the Chrononauts and their scientific team used to break the barriers of time as well as into the clothing and uniforms that they wear. Murphy’s pencils get better and more beautiful with each and every page culminating in an action sequence that’s wonderfully laid out and perfectly framed.

The writing is where this comic just feels average. I’m a big fan of Millar’s works as he’s given the comics world some truly memorable stories, but so far this one falls a bit flat. Two scientific minds, Dr. Corbin Quinn and Dr. Danny Reilly have come up with a way to travel through time and like the first moon landing, they’re going to televise it. Simple enough idea that presents a ton of possibility, but this is a story we’ve seen before and nothing that Millar has presented so far feels new. Although Corbin Quinn seems to have some depth as the main star of the book, co-star and friend Danny Reilly comes across as a somewhat unlikeable character which may be exactly what Millar’s going for.

Chrononauts is attempting to simplify the complexity of time travel by highlighting the comedic and lighthearted feel of the relationship between the two doctors. In it’s simplicity to appeal to everyone, the story falls a bit flat and into all too familiar territory. It’s not a bad story, it’s just that it doesn’t really present anything new or different. Fortunately though, Sean Murphy more than makes up for it with his magnificent pencils. I’ll be back for next issue because of Murphy and I’m hoping that Millar’s writing provides a future where both the art and the writing are equally as strong.

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

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The Sculptor OGN (First Second)

Sculptor

CREDIT: First Second Publishing

Rating: 5/5 – The Clock Is Ticking. Go Get and Read The Sculptor Now!
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow

If I’ve done my job, you should resent the hell out of me by the end of this review, because reading it is keeping you from going out and reading The Sculptor. One thing is consistent about Scott McCloud: When he steps to the plate, he does not bunt. He does not pop a sacrifice fly to allow someone else to score, nor is he content to take a base on balls. No, when McCloud swings, he swings for the fences. Whether creating one of the best examples of what independent comics could be in a time when independent comics weren’t something readily accessible to everyone (I know I wasn’t picking issues of Zot! at my local convenience store), writing one of the Bibles of sequential art (Understanding Comics), or in his latest work, The Sculptor, defining just what it means to be – not an artist – but truly alive. McCloud does not go for small base hits. He’s aiming for that back wall every time.
Art is cruel. She does not love you, but she demands that you love her. Oh, you may think you have a good relationship with her, but you’re lying to yourself. She will leave you for the next big thing the moment you start thinking in those terms. You think you understand her? You have no idea.

David Smith thought he had a good handle on what she was, but just as he got an opportunity to pursue her and receive fame and adulation, everything backfired, and the world cast their gaze on the “next big thing.” Now David finds himself nearly penniless – a true starving artist – when he meets Death, who offers him a Faustian bargain: For 200 days he will be able to create anything he sets his mind to, with ease and without flaws. The catch? On day 200 he will die. No takebacks.

Would you take such a bargain, if you were at the end of your rope? Obviously David does, or we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we? 200 days for him to make his mark on the artistic world, giving them an amazing array of sculptures and designs that would set the world afire and send the pretenders and also-rans heading back to their trust fund hovels or their quiet normal boring lives. And then he falls in love. With the one. The one to end all others for him. Art is cruel.

That David Smith isn’t a wholly likeable character is one of the great things about McCloud. David is temperamental, whiny, makes inappropriate comments at inappropriate times…in short he’s not a character you’re going to necessarily fall in love with. That said, you won’t forget him, either, because he’s real. He doesn’t apologize for who he is…McCloud won’t let him. Every character in the book is flawed. Pleasant some times, unapproachable the next. And that’s the beauty of it…they’re among the most human characters you’re likely to meet in comics.

If you’ve ever read a McCloud book, you know what to expect from the person who broke down the medium into its component parts and continually strives to find new ways to advance it forward. Few people can make a book, for want of a better word, flow the way he’s able to, and The Sculptor stands as another testament to that ongoing work. Read Understanding Comics if you haven’t already. Then read The Sculptor to see those ideas and theories given form.  Now, let’s get back to art being cruel. She won’t suffer the hobbyist, the weekend warrior, the passing faddist…no, you’ll serve her or you’ll move on because she’ll make you move on. You’ll devote all your time to her or she’ll make you regret the day you ever started courting her. This is the true not-so-hidden message of The Sculptor. David Smith has 200 days. His clock is ticking. In those 200 days, David meets the woman he’s waited his whole life to meet, tries to make a name for himself in the artistic world, discovers what’s truly important to him, and to tell you anything more destroys what McCloud worked hard to create.

Unlike David, we don’t know when our own clocks will stop, and upon closing the last page of the book, I allowed myself a few moments to reflect on just how many precious seconds of my own life I’ve given away to things that didn’t matter. Art is cruel, as I’ve said, but time is crueler. Because art at least cares, or pretends to care for your benefit. Time does not.  Musician and public speaker Henry Rollins said it best: “No such thing as spare time. No such thing as free time. No such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go.” And I’ve just taken a couple minutes of yours to read these words. You should resent me for robbing you of something so precious. If it gets you to pick this book up, though, I’m willing to put up with your ire. Now get off facebook, stop staring at screens, and go contribute something beautiful to the world before you leave it.  The clock is ticking. Go.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow
(al@comicspectrum.com
)
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Rebels #1 (Dark Horse)

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Rating: 5/5 – A Thrilling Account of America’s First Militia; Live Free Or Die!
by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall

I love historical fiction.  That made me an easy mark for this new series from writer Brian Wood and artist Andrea Mutti.  That said, love for a genre won’t make me like something that isn’t created with a sense of realism, quality, and an amazing attention to detail.  Rebels has all three of these in abundance.  I learned a number of facts about what had been going on in this time and place while being entertained by the fictionalized account of Seth Abbott and the beginnings of the American Revolution on a front I had not explored before, Vermont of 1775.

This could end up being my favorite thing Brian Wood has written, which is no mean feat given his comics resume.  Wood traces America’s first Militia, The Green Mountain Boys, and while I’ve heard of them before, I never did any in depth studying of them, so the topic was fascinating to start.  Where ‘Rebels’ transcended a simple historical retelling for me was in how Wood made the characters and settings feel so genuine and real, they came to life for me in a very simple down-to-earth way.  Andrea Mutti’s art was a perfect complement to Wood’s story.  Delicate inkwork perfectly delineating the characters and placing them in a world with just the right amount of background detail to give me that sense of place that I felt really captured the time period.

You should be putting in a reservation for your copy of this comic, hitting the stands on April 8th.  I think this series is going to be talked about and be winning awards in the years to come, you should get on board at the ground floor.  It’s a really entertaining read, beautiful to look at, and you might just learn some history along the way, what a deal!  Entertaining.  Enlightening.  Enrapturing.  Buy this book!

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

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Shaper #1 (Dark Horse)

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CREDIT: Dark Horse Comics

Rating: 3.5/5 – Originally a Screenplay, Now a Comic.
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas.

It’s no secret that comic books have become a heavy source of influence for the motion picture industry, not only for superheroes, but across a wide range of genres. This year alone we’ve seen or will see the Avengers, Ant-Man and Kingsman just to name a few. With that being said, many creators have brought their ideas to the comic book page in the hopes of turning it into something bigger than comics, like Mark Millar’s MillarWorld line of books including the recently released Chrononauts that has already been optioned by Universal. Shaper, created by Eric Heisserer was originally intended to be seen as a movie since the original ideas were written into a screenplay for Heisserer’s own cinematic space opera, but has now ended up being told on the page in this first issue from Dark Horse Comics.

Shaper falls squarely into the science fiction genre with futuristic landscapes and technology, space ships, and as hinted by the title, shape shifters. Heisserer in the afterword talks about his love of the genre and being influenced by sci-fi writers like Dan Simmons, Stephen Baxter and more. It provides an interesting take on Hollywood as Heisserer talks about the Catch-22 of Hollywood wanting original ideas, but at the same time not wanting to take gambles on unproven properties. Shaper although utilizing concepts we’ve seen before, presents them in a fresh way with a story that got my attention and held me to the end.

This is the story of Spry, a teenage boy that’s about to graduate school and enter the “real” world. Things don’t go exactly as planned and he finds himself thrown into a galactic sized problem with a war between the Caliphate army pictured on the cover, and the hunted race of shapeshifters.

The art by Felipe Massafera works well for the story, but at times because of the heavy lines and strong uses of blacks can get a little muddy and hide the action. Massafera’s imaginative art does sell the futuristic world happening around the characters, though. There’s different types of aliens introduced throughout, and the ships and transportation methods look and feel futuristic. I thought the cover along with the logo gave this book a slightly ‘manga type’ feel, but the interior pencils and style are far from it.

Shaper creates a new world that looks and reads like a cinematic space opera. Although the art didn’t always live up to my high expectations, it did enough to draw me in and serve the story. I’ve seen a lot of space opera books in the world of comics, so it remains to be seen if this one can stand out amongst the competition. So far I’ll be back for another issue and hope that the story goes in a direction that’s surprising and new.

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

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Action Comics #40 (DC)

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CREDIT: DC Comics

Rating: 5/5 – Me Am Hate This Issue! Worst Issue Ever!
by ComicSpectrum senior reviewer Shawn Hoklas

I love the character Bizarro. Originally created back in the late 1950s, he’s continued to be one of Superman’s greatest and most original villains. Bizarro is a more grotesque mirrored version of Superman that does and says the opposite. The character Bizarro has, in a way, transcended comics.  He is used as a way to describe the opposite in every day life. Bizarro’s speech patterns were even popularized on the “Bizarro” episode of Seinfeld with Jerry explaining to Elaine “He says ‘Hello’ when he leaves, ‘Goodbye’ when he arrives”. With Action Comics number forty, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder take Superman on an adventure into the Bizarro world, truly embracing the character with an unforgettable story and stunning art.

After being sucked into the Bizarro universe, we see the square Bizarro Earth and a square moon that, you guessed it, is made of cheese. The first piece of dialogue Pak writes…”Goodbye”. Greg Pak doesn’t want to create a “New 52” version of Bizarro like we saw in Forever Evil, he embraces the Bizarro of the Silver Age and all his quirks. Pak even gives us the Injustice League that has an Aquaman with a fishbowl on his head, and a Batzarro with his mask on backwards. And the Flash, well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s just subtle enough to make you love him. After Superman has an encounter with this Earth’s Lois Lane he attempts to stop a version of Metallo that just can’t stand the disorder in the city of Bizopolis. Not only that, but Doomsday shows up as well. Action Comics number forty is a done-in-one tale that has easily become my favorite issue of 2015, not only for the story, but for Aaron Kuder’s jaw dropping art.

Each part of the Bizarro world has character, and each character stands out on their own. Metallo has a microwave for a chest piece and an outlet as one of his eyes. One city building is made of puzzle pieces, while another parking garage has a sign that reads “Go Away”. The art is packed with detail and studying each pages reveals another surprise you didn’t see the first time. Aaron Kuder pours everything he’s got into these pages and there isn’t one “simple” panel in the entire issue. And when Doomsday shows up…the pages just have to be seen and then enjoyed again with subsequent readings.

I was tempted to write this entire review in Bizarro speak as I enjoyed this issue so much. This is a Silver Age book with modern day talents. Pak and Kuder take the craziest ideas of Bizarro and write a serious story that never takes itself too seriously. This book will make you laugh throughout, and will encourage multiple readings to see all the little things that Kuder has hidden within the art. I wish this was a multi-part story as I’d like to stay on Bizarro world for a little longer, but with a new Bizarro book on the horizon, here’s hoping they use this issue as inspiration.

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

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