Last Week’s Comics 3/26/14

Promo-finAnne Bonnie #1  

(Blue Juice Comics – writers: Tim Yates & Lelan Estes; art: Tim Yates)

Fresh off my pirating successes in Assassin’s Creed 4, I decided to give Annie Bonnie a try. The comic pulls from a variety of sources: Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Pirates of the Caribbean and even Goonies. But there’s a uniqueness in Tim Yates and Lelan Estes’ story, and one that makes its lead character immediately likable, and the setting mysterious enough to warrant another trip to sea.

What sold me on Anne Bonnie was its lead character, the adorable, witty and fearless Ariana, a red-headed adventure seeker who stumbles upon a mysterious lost ship of a pirate queen known as Anne Bonnie. Through terse exposition, Yates and Estes craft Ariana’s backstory which involves one Lord Firestorm, a brutish ruler who has the power to summon fire from his fists, and a cryptic object which acts like a key to a trapped ship.

The quickness with which Yates and Estes move through their story raises the question of their intentions. The exposition is rushed, and while I loved Ariana as the lead, I thought the beginning of the comic could have been inter-spliced through flashbacks rather than skipping over years of Ariana’s life to arrive at the moment where she finds the Anne Bonnie.

The second half of the book is really where Yates and Estes’ creativity comes out. Where the comic seemed mostly grounded in reality (despite Lord Firestorm’s odd ability), Ariana’s discovery of the ship opens the doors onto molten giants, self-sailing ships and temperamental figureheads. The comic places these things in the world without explanation, something that makes reading the book a lot more fun.

And regarding the main character, Ariana pulls you in immediately. She has innocence and tenacity, and the writers hit the comedic notes with aplomb so that you occasionally find yourself laughing out loud. If you think of Uncharted and Nate Drake’s lightheartedness, you’ll get a sense of Ariana’s character.

Furthermore, I loved Tim Yates’ artistic design. It’s a bit cartoonish, but again, this works well to seep the reader in the world of Anne Bonnie. The character designs, and the vibrancy of the color palette give the comic a bright, polished look. Characters definitely ham it up for the audience, but this only aids to their persona (Ariana especially). You know who the good and bad guys are just by looking through the book.

If you’re willing to give it a try, I think Anne Bonnie is a neat read. Regardless of my issues with the pacing of the comic, I found myself immediately drawn to Ariana, and I want to find out the mystery of the ship (which spends most of the issue doing its own thing). Yates and Estes seem to have a plan, and with the colorful and pleasing imagery and the bits of humor thrown in, I’d definitely set sail with Anne Bonnie again. 

comics-american-vampireAmerican Vampire: Second Cycle #1

(Vertigo – writer: Scott Snyder; art: Rafael Albuquerque)

I have to admit that I’ve been away from the American Vampire world for quite a while. When I first started writing reviews for Unwinnable, some of my earliest work was on how much I loved the series. Scott Snyder even contacted me to tell me he appreciated the review.

So this week, I happily return to the world of Skinner Sweet, Pearl Jones, and the blood sucking monsters I’ve come to love and adore. For Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, American Vampire: Second Cycle is a rejuvenation of all they’ve built – the mythos, the characters, and the world. For new readers, Second Cycle is the perfect jumping on point.

And for American Vampire’s long term fans? Second Cycle is a warm blanket, a return to the known, and a brilliant comic that has reignited my enjoyment for the series, both in its story and its art.

Basically, Second Cycle takes what Snyder has already created and expands on it. There’s hints of a bigger world of vampires immediately, and the introduction is terrifying in the new threat it offers. Also, Snyder gives us some familiarity – both Pearl Jones and Skinner Sweet make appearances, and both characters stick to their usual forte, but based on what Snyder shows us they’re both in for a world of new troubles.

The comic deftly brings us back into the fold through its characters. Pearl’s humanity is offset by Sweet’s dementia, and Snyder does a nice job of mirroring the lives of his major characters. We get enough background information of each to allow for a quick memory jog (or a brand new introduction for unfamiliar readers) and the comic ends perfectly by returning where it started to give us a darker look at the vampiric world. (Also based on what we see I think both Pearl and Sweet are in for a world of hurt.)

Back as well is artist Rafael Albuquerque whose unique artistic stylings have become a common facet of American Vampire. The comic uses parallel structure in its story telling, and Albuquerque complies with his artistic design. The middle parts of the comic reflect one another, even if the characters are foil. But the new vampires, the ones who only appear as opaque shapes, are even more terrifying through Albuquerque’s steady hand.

Pages are works of art in the comic, and despite his time away from the series, Rafael Albuquerque’s art has never looked better, particularly when Pearl’s guests start showing off their “assets” and Skinner Sweet encounters a new breed of enemy.

American Vampire is a series that drew me back into comics after a long hiatus, and I’m so thankful that it’s returned. Scott Snyder is easily one of comics’ best writers, and while Rafael Albuquerque has had a few guest spots in Batman comics, it’s nice to see him at the helm of a comic again. If you’ve stepped away from American Vampire, now is the time to come back. And if you’ve never set foot in Snyder’s twisted world, now’s the time to do so.

I defy you not to be impressed.

tumblr_n21xqgnJD81qz9mavo3_1280Daredevil #1

(Marvel – writer: Mark Waid & Chris Samnee; art: Chris Samnee)

Bannen’s Book of the Week:  New city? New enemies? New threats?

No problem.

Despite moving the locale from New York to San Francisco, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee still present the same old resourceful Matt Murdock, this time using the comic to show readers that the man without fear can operate anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances.

Much of the issue is Matt fending off a glider riding enemy (not Green Goblin) whose kidnapped prize was rescued by Daredevil. But Matt soon realizes that the chasers have a much more sinister plan in mind and his ability to outwit and defeat them shows that he’s not only a blind man who’s been given added abilities, but a guy who’s pretty damn smart as well.

Waid and Samnee are at their best in this new #1, capturing all the flash of their last Daredevil series while introducing a few new concepts, like Karen McDuffie as his “Oracle,” a person with eyes (no pun intended) and ears on the ground to help guide Daredevil through unfamiliar terrain.

This new territory is where Waid and Samnee show their best writing because they display Matt’s abilities at their finest. His comfortability with New York is definitely addressed, but his capacity to adapt is where he proves his worth. Waid and Samnee make San Francisco a living creature, capturing its personality and its differences from the Big Apple.

But when Matt finds out the plans of his attackers, the comic opens the doors on a much darker plot. I won’t ruin it here, but hopefully, you’ve read the comic (or are going to after this review) and you’ve discovered that the lengths which Matt’s new enemies will go to are disturbing.

They did not, however, count on Daredevil, his physical strength and his scope of knowledge.

Chris Samnee is on the art duties again, and he shows that once Matt makes his way across the cityscape, everything is cleaner and more precise. The beginning of the comic is edgier, darker and shadow laden. But when Daredevil makes his first appearance, the imagery tightens and each panel is full of crisp, refined designs. The cleverness of Samnee’s panel design is on full display, and he’s really the star of the comic.

Two pages in particular depict Matt’s history and the backdrop of New York City. Samnee shifts out of the usual box designs, and comes up with some truly unique methods to illustrate the story. The tension of Matt’s rooftop escape from a glider wielding foe makes for a great climax to the comic. Daredevil’s final appearance is shown through the reflection of his villain’s helmet and the page gave me goosebumps. This is the kind of art that elevates a comic (and makes you frustrated you can’t draw this well).

I loved Daredevil before anyway, but this new #1 is every bit as awesome as the previous series. Plus, breaking the character out of his traditional mold could open up the door for some new ideas and concepts not previously explored.

Either way, I’m just happy to read more Daredevil. The comic is truly a monthly treat.

Brian Bannen

Batwoman-Cv29_dsBatwoman #29

(DC – writer: Marc Andreyko; art: Jeremy Haun)

This issue continues the lackluster subplot with new enemy Wolf Spider, but the real focus is Kate’s supposed mental health issues and how they’re threatening her relationship with Maggie. Previously, Maggie’s daughter happened upon a bruised and bloodied Kate just returned from a night of crimefighting and was understandably terrified. Even after the girl seemed to accept Kate’s apology, Maggie then demanded that Kate see a therapist.

But the creators aren’t really interested in exploring any mental trauma Kate has. Her brief therapy session only rehashes her mother’s death (her motivation to be a superhero, just as Bruce Wayne’s parents’ deaths motivate him); her sister’s insanity – granted we don’t know how this story played out because the new creators haven’t concluded this arc yet – her queerness (which Kate came to terms with a long time ago) and her scaring Maggie’s daughter (which is a problem, but not exactly traumatic for Kate).

It’s true that a little child shouldn’t be exposed to Kate’s violent superhero lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that lifestyle is wrong or harmful in any context. Drinking, swearing and arguing are all behaviors that are “not for kids” but are still accepted as normal in an adult relationship. In the context of Maggie and Kate’s relationship, Kate’s superhero lifestyle has already been accepted as their version of normal. So Maggie’s logical response to Kate letting Jamie see her would be “not in front of the kid.”

Instead, Maggie says “you need mental help,” an insinuation so wildly out of left field that it insults Maggie, Kate, their previously established relationship, the myth of the superhero and pop culture’s depiction of mental health issues in general. No, Kate’s therapy sessions are clearly just a way of breaking Kate and Maggie up in order to satisfy DC Comics’ anti-marriage rule.

Jeremy Haun’s environments are detailed and he is experimenting with some more creative layouts in an attempt to emulate Williams’ and Blackman’s style, but while the previous creators’ art always served to reinforce or re-contextualize an issue addressed in the story, Haun’s atypical layouts merely serve to distract from the disappointing plot. His Kate also continues to have an uncharacteristically femme presentation, with plump lips, slender arms and largely nonaggressive postures that at least accord with this new Kate’s petulant and defensive dialogue.

I really wanted to give Batwoman‘s new creative team of Marc Andreyko and Jeremy Haun a chance, much as I loved W. Haden Blackman and J. H. Williams III. And I would love to see a superhero comic actually deal with mental health issues. But to use mental illness as a thinly veiled plot device – and on DC Comics’ only queer woman protagonist, no less – is disappointing, to say the very least.

– Jill Scharr

PrintSex Criminals #5

(Image – Writer: Matt Fraction; Artist: Chip Zdarsky)

Sex Criminals #5 picks up right where #4 left off. Suzie and Jon are in the custody of the Sex Police. The story then flashes back to show how Officer Kegelface had been observing our leads as they planned to rob a bank. The issue fills in a lot of gaps (no, not like that you creep) and moves the characters and their story towards the edge of a larger world. Sex Criminals #5 is the end of the book’s first arc and it teases that there is a lot more to their post-coital special place than Suzie and Jon are aware of – and they are desperate to discover more about themselves, each other and their relationship to The Quiet/Cumworld.

Sex Criminals, on its surface, seems like it could run out of steam rather quickly, but Fraction and Zdarsky are populating their world with very real characters. Yes, the comic is a sex comedy, but the first issue started with the senseless murder of the main character’s father and the hell it brought upon her home as she began to grow from girl to woman. The surface is crude and lewd, but the book is chock full of subtext. Sure, there’s a “Bondage, James Bondage” bondage kit and a character named Sexual Gary, but Suzie’s curiosity is the real heart of this book.  It’s pretty amazing.

Fraction’s dialogue and Zdarsky’s expressive faces are what sell these characters. Their combined story pacing flows better with each issue. This particular issue moved seamlessly between the present and the past. While we learn more about how Kegelface was actually watching our leads, Suzie (and the reader) learned a lot more about Jon’s history. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how much of an open book Suzie is to the reader while much of Jon’s history and motivations are still partially shrouded by awkward jokes and stories of finding porno in the woods. Fraction and Zdarsky are taking us through a budding relationship and every discovery leads to more laughs and just a little bit of dread. Cripes, it feels like actual dating.

This is the last issue we’re getting until June, so if you haven’t caught up, you’ve got some time. Sex Criminals, like sex, is really about intimacy and just how vulnerable we are when we get to know someone beyond a casual encounter. That honesty is what makes Sex Criminals one of the best books on the stands. What are you waiting for? Go!

– Ian Gonzales

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