The weekly slab of the best - or most notable - comics from Halloween's eve day, October 30th, 2013. Bwa-Ha-Haaa!
Book of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #27
On a week when Image Comics' "Saga" hits the comic book shelves, it is often difficult for any other comic book to even compare in terms of quality. While there likely are many fans who may find this reviewer daft for choosing "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" over "Saga" this week, the sheer excitement of this month's installment of the "City Fall" story simply could not be ignored. IDW Comics' excellent revision of the core Ninja Turtle comic book series continues to take elements from the original 1980's comics as well as the animated series from then through the newer series from 2003 and re-imagine them into a cohesive and innovative whole. Original co-creator Kevin Eastman alongside Tom Waltz and Bobby Curnow continue to pen a riveting Turtle tale which mingles sci-fi, urban vigilante combat with a diverse cast of characters new and old. Mateus Santolouco continues to handle the art chores for this arc with fantastic pencils, with longtime colorist Ronda Pattison allowing the artwork of all of this series' artist to become one with the overall narrative with her usual terrific colors.
Throughout the course of this arc, the Shredder has sought to harness the raw resources of the Foot Clan to take control of the entire criminal underworld of New York from the mafia to low level street gangs. To this end he's waged a war against an organization of French martial artists as well as utilized his longtime magical fox ally Kitsune to brainwash Leonardo into becoming his second-in-command; this has irked his former second, granddaughter Karai. Those efforts nearly killed Casey Jones and shattered the family which Splinter has tried so hard to reassemble, but in this issue they all rise up against the Shredder as he stands on a literal stage of power. Splinter has formed an unholy alliance with enemies Old Hob and Slash while former "Purple Dragons" gang leader Angel has turned against their new leader, the bulked up "Hun" (who is actually Casey's father). All of the heroes and unlikely allies have descended upon a key Foot meeting ground at a critical hour, setting the stage for a massive showdown. Yet, Karai hasn't let grass grow under her boots either, and has brought on two massive mutants that fans of the original 1987 cartoons will know well to even the score.
The pace of this issue is fast, yet the script never ignores key character moments even as its cast has ballooned since the first year or so of this title. Various characters may only have a page or two to interact, but the interaction is always riveting and progressive, building from past stories and stretching towards future ones. Leo has often been criticized for being a "boring" leader character, so this arc in which he's become a villain seeks to shatter that image. It also allows him to switch roles with Raphael, who began the series as a lost brother. Even minor antagonists like Alopex and Kitsune get to share a good scene together. In addition, Santolouco's artwork shows the same attention to detail and investment in the narrative as the script does. His images always have plenty of detail yet not so much that movement seems stiff. In addition, this issue has some amusing "legally ambiguous cameos" by well known figures such as "punk look Storm" or even "Walter White" from "Breaking Bad" as part of the criminal alliance.
Often dismissed as "yet another 1980's relaunch", IDW's TMNT comics have long been ground breaking in their ability to mingle the old with the new in original configurations. The characters are not handled cheaply nor are the stories just flash in the pan to justify combat, they're engaging and well through out comic book sagas which capitalize on the wealth of material which exists for "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" work. Readers who have become dismayed by "corporate comics" are wise to seek out independent works, but should also know that not all "corporate comics" are treated equally. Ninja Turtle fans old and new, young and old, should find this run as among the best the franchise's had.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series: Villains #7: The core TMNT series from IDW Comics has often been flanked by a secondary "micro-series" which as time goes on have become increasingly vital to the overall story. While it does mean that fans have to read two titles a month, it is still a far less drain on the wallet than, say, all of the "Avengers" or "Batman" comics produced a month. The theme of the current micro-series is on embellishing on, or introducing, the villains of the core series of TMNT. To this end, this micro-series issue has the task of recreating and redeeming two bumbling characters fans from the 80's know so well; Bebop and Rocksteady. Creations of the original 1987 cartoon series that put TMNT on the map, they often served as useless comic relief and so irritated co-creator Peter Laird that he refused their entry into any film adaptations he had influence on. In this one-shot, writer Dustin Weaver and artist Ben Bates remake them from the ground up and seek to make them workable in the 21st century. In this new continuity, the pair are two punk rock music fans turned low level gang members who own incompetence has made them pariahs in the underworld. Seeing the reorganization of the underworld by the Foot Clan as their last chance at redemption, the pair gleefully sign up for Karai's experimental procedure to create mutant animal-man warriors. They quickly botch a meeting between Karai and a minor gang in Chinatown but prove themselves to her as little more than useful living weapons. Weaver apparently believed that being dimwits was the core truth of the characters; what has changed is that their massive forms make them virtually unbeatable in straight-up combat and their low intelligence actually enhances how dangerous they are to anyone or anything in their path. This could be seen as a misstep, but considering that the Shredder already has smart, competent minions in Karai and Alopex, there is some room for two thugs who exist as brute force. The artwork by Bates skillfully mingles physical comedy with brutal violence, and reworking the two as henchmen who may be easy to laugh at but not to survive fighting against is a quite unique method to recreate them for a new generation.
Saga #15: The cover of this issue is an effective mock-up of pulp romance novels, which proves to be an effective metaphor as an alien version of such a tome is one of the cornerstones of the premise. Creators Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue to craft their innovative and amazing creator owned work at Image Comics which redefines sci-fi comics, or comics in general. This arc continues to take a step back from Prince Robot IV discovering the fugitive family at the home of author Mr. Heist to show their time together with him, as well as the path their antagonists have taken since the end of the series' first year. To this end, intergalactic tabloid reporters (and lovers) Upsher and Doff have a talk with Countess Robot X, mother of Prince Robot IV and Alana's former military commander for the Coalition. Meanwhile, Alana and Marko iron out some plans for their future as a family in the middle of a board game with Heist and Granny, while "the Will" and Marko's ex Gwen encounter a space parasite which has turned their rescued "slave girl" against them. The artwork really steals the show this time around, enhancing the script with lush backgrounds and some of the most unique character designs in comics. The dialogue is definitely for mature readers without being immature in content, which is a tough balance to pull off. The issue's only blemish is despite the exciting cliffhanger, this is still a mid-gap issue bridging better ones to each other. Regardless, this series' fast rise as one of Image Comics' best sellers is no accident, and if sales truly reflected quality, it should sell far more copies than it does.
Avengers A.I. #5: Valerio Schiti handles fill-in art for this issue, and proves so amazingly up to the task that it would be splendid if he took over entirely. Sam Humphries continues on his saga of "Hank Pym and the Robot Avengers", writing a middle chapter issue in which the team and the world recovers from the efforts of rogue artificial intelligence Dimitrios. His efforts to punish humans for their crimes against robots have resulted in financial and physical chaos, as well as the apparent death of team member Victor Mancha from an effort to destroy a key hard drive. This issue focuses on new character Alexis, who apparently is a robotic sibling of Dimitrios who was given amnesia to prevent her from recalling that she is programmed to protect the planet - including against her terrorist brother. The issue stumbles a little by revealing that Hank Pym is bi-polar, which undoes a lot of efforts to rehabilitate the character from being known for mental illness and little else, but rises again by revealing Victor's death may have been exaggerated. "Doombot" continues to be more of a routine than an act, with robots serving the role of "oppressed minority" that Marvel Comics typically employs mutants or Inhumans to serve in stories about social metaphors. The series is ambitious but a tad weird, which could be why sales are starting to flounder. Regardless, with so many "Avengers" comics, a mandate has been made that none of them are alike, and this one certainly is in a place all its own.
Scarlet Spider #23: The latest "Spider-Man" spin off to feature an arc about Kraven the Hunter and/or his family comes to a violent conclusion as writers Chris Yost and Erik Burnham put their lead Kaine through some of the final paces of this canceled series. Forced into a fight to the death to save his supporting cast from Houston, it is a story which once again seeks to have Kaine struggle between being the killer he usually is and the hero he (or at least his cast) wants him to be. This has been a central theme to "Scarlet Spider" so often that it could border on cyclical at this point, but this story executes it better than the last, which saw Kaine literally transform into a giant spider. David Baldeon does solo art here with Chris Sotomayor on colors - the same art team behind "Young Allies" - and as usual they do a standout job on a story which relies mostly on physical action. The story has a fair twist with Kaine refusing to kill Kraven out of spite more than any noble purpose, even if his actions tend to be misunderstood as heroic by many in his cast. One of his friends does meet a grisly fate, which causes officer Layton to finally look into his past. Throughout the entire series Kaine has bemoaned becoming Houston's hero and setting roots, and the next two issues will hopefully bring this paranoia to a satisfying conclusion. Overall, this was a successful story, although the Kraven family need to stop being go-to villains for any web-slinger spin off from now on to avoid being overused and diminished.
Superior Spider-Man #20: The strange saga of Dr. Octopus inhabiting the body of Spider-Man (who seemingly died in Ock's mangled form) continues as writer Dan Slott and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli team up for this latest arc which revives one of Spidey's little known villains from the mid 90's who actually makes perfect sense to return to form now. With Horizon Labs destroyed, Spidey-Ock seeks to bounce back by setting up his own laboratory with his own researchers - including his squeeze Ms. Marconi - and become his own self made superhero. Unfortunately, he runs afoul of Black Cat before failing to assure his own doctorate due to his own arrogance of utilizing old research for his thesis. The solicitations for this issue were troubling to say the least - all but joyfully teasing about Black Cat being date-raped by a villain wearing the form of her old boyfriend. Thankfully, both that and the cover turn out to be exaggerations of a brief encounter which will only serve to continue the trend of turning Peter's older cast against him. The artwork (as well as colors by John Dell) are fantastic, channeling classic art cues from the franchise well. Low lights, however, include yet another annoyingly vague psychic prediction by Julia Carpenter as well as Carlie Cooper's glacially paced investigation of the "new" Spider-Man, who sees assassination attempts as his only recourse to life's problems. Another solid issue, even if the real meat will be how Peter will rebuild his life when he inevitably returns in time for next summer's film from Sony.
Also out: Rex, Zombie Killer #1 from Big Dog Ink, which was reviewed last week!
Obligatory review - Infinity #5: To be fair, this issue much like the last comes this close to not being obligatory and actually being decent. The dilemma here is that this series’ attempts to mean something beyond jumbled fan fiction about superheroes in space is too little, too late. Thane, the son of Thanos who is supposed to garner so much weight and sympathy, only appeared last issue and is a cliché of any “son of a villain” character ever in terms of persona. While it is nice that Jonathan Hickman’s era on “Avengers” sees the team fight epic wars in space with other intergalactic armies rather than talk endlessly about useless and juvenile blather such as during the Brian Bendis era, his scope is so high he loses sight of the characters. Cap and Thor have an amusing exchange but one page can’t make up for seemingly endless panels of group battles you need a Marvel Handbook to make sense of alongside swarms of narration boxes. Considering that writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote three epic space sagas as well as two monthly titles about space heroes from 2006-2009 and managed to make all more exciting, amusing, and relatable than this makes Hickman’s bland scale hard to forgive. The artwork by Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver is terrific, and this series does push the editorial agenda to make the Inhumans hot again so Marvel Studios films can use them as stand-ins for mutants (since Fox own that license). Overall, some fine ideas with bland execution.