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Picks of comic book week: That demon had better be house broken

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Big Trouble in Little China #2

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Book of the week: Big Trouble in Little China #2

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Otherwise known as, "the continuing adventures of Jack Burton and the Pork-Chop Express", BOOM! Studios latest licensed comic book reaches new heights of humor and atmosphere after an entertaining but mildly middling debut issue a month ago. While comic books based around film franchises were commonplace during the 1990's, this era's licensed fare benefits from higher quality controls as well as more involvement by established creators. In this series' case, John Carpenter (the director of the cult 1986 film this series is a sequel to) is on hand to co-write the series alongside iconic comic creator Eric Powell ("The Goon"). Brian Churilla and Michael Garland provide the art and colors (respectively) to a series which continues the tradition of supernatural action/comedy which the original film helped create.

Picking up from the end credits of the film, Jack Burton was on his way out of Little China with his $13,000 check earned after aiding in the defeat of the supernatural wizard Lo-Pan and helping his best friend Wang Chi in a jam. Unfortunately, he quickly becomes the guardian of a hairy demon which sees him as his master now that Lo-Pan is dead, and one of his equally tall minions has interrupted Wang's wedding to boot! Now in order to save Wang, Burton and the elderly sorcerer Egg Shen have to perform an impossible trucking mission in the underworld itself. The first leg of this improbable journey involves having to deal with wise men on giant turtles, angry gnomes, and the antics of the aforementioned hairy pet demon (who Burton has named Pete).

This second issue succeeds where the previous one stumbled due to a simpler narrative and someone for Burton to bounce dialogue off of. The opening issue had the task of following up from the film and reestablishing the premise; this one thrives on the strength of Burton and Egg bickering during a mission. The art by Churilla is on par with some of the master illustrators of "MAD magazine" in which the characters resemble the actors who portrayed them (at least circa 1986), yet are not so "photorealistic" that the art is stiff or BOOM! could be sued for using any actor's likeness without permission. Burton, as always, is full of bluster and back stories, often detailing that his previous wives all had ties to the supernatural long before Burton ever met Lo-Pan.

Often lost on some industry insiders or even some of the actors on set, the twist of "Big Trouble in Little China" was to flip the old time stereotype of a knowledgeable white hero having a bumbling sidekick who was a person of color. In the original film, Wang was the accomplished fighter who knew all about their enemies while Burton was bragging and blustering through battles he clearly was no match for. Even his defeat of Lo-Pan is more fluke than fate. This series alters that dynamic drastically as it is very clear that Burton himself is the lead and star hero, which means Wang has to take a back seat. Fortunately, despite this change in the fabric of the franchise Burton's bravado still vastly outweighs his fighting skills, which is why having "Pete" as a pet attack demon (dressed in tacky clothes) is a stroke of genius. The interactions between Burton and Egg also make for comedy gold.

The existence of "action comedy comics" isn't as rare as it used to be, and this series finds itself competing with the likes of "Quantum and Woody", "Archer & Armstrong", "Superior Foes of Spider-Man", "She-Hulk", and even the legacy of "Incredible Hercules". Considering how melodramatically dark, violent, and grim that mainstream superhero comics can often be (all in the name of "maturity"), the rise of lighter fare is a good thing to balance things out. With this issue, Carpenter and Powell prove that "Big Trouble in Little China" still has legs left beyond its' cult appeal and that more hilarious adventures are to come every month. At least, that's what ol' Jack Burton always says.

Honorable mentions:

Quantum & Woody #12: Writer James Asmus wraps up his first year on this reboot of Valiant Entertainment's longtime superhero buddy comedy in his usual laugh-out-loud manner. Once again, one of the world's most bizarre family units find themselves once again battling the evil scientist organization known as "Edison's Radical Acquisitions" (or the "E.R.A"). This time, however, they come face to face with Thomas Edison himself, who has transformed himself into a cybernetic, tentacled, half-ape monster who seems adept at co-opting the inventions of others. Goat's status as containing a copy of the mind of adopted brothers' father is revealed, and as usual, things end with a lot of blasting, bickering, and belly laughs. The art is provided by Wilfredo Torres, Erica Henderson and Joseph Cooper, who earn bonus points for an "Archie" style flashback sequence which is so wrong, that it's right. All in all, the titular team are reunited and set up in a stable status quo for their upcoming alliance with Valiant's other dysfunctional duo, "Archer & Armstrong", a mini series called "The Delinquents" next month. Honestly, the only reason why this wasn't this week's "book of the week" was because "Big Trouble in Little China #2" was just a wee bit funnier.

Black Widow #8: One of the hottest couples Marvel Comics have produced in recent memory - Natasha Romanova and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier - have been reunited for the first time since the end of Ed Brubaker's run on "Winter Soldier" years ago. Rather than undo the events of that series, the creative team of Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto instead capitalize on the tension created by the fact that Natasha no longer remembers their relationship due to a recent bout of brainwashing, yet Barnes does. In fact, Barnes all but steals this issue as a simple "snatch and grab" mission for Natasha sees her wind up in the middle of a fight between the Winter Soldier and a violent gang of international thieves. As always, Edmondson has a great voice for his characters and is able to stage a riveting action sequence alongside Noto's stellar art. Aside for a subplot involving Natasha's reliable lawyer Isaiah, however, this remains another done in one issue for a series which seems to excel at producing them.

Daredevil #0.1: Although Marvel Comics has gained a reputation for tossing out endless "point one" side one-shots or mini series lately, this is more than it seems. This is actually the physical printing of a "digital first" comic book produced to fill the gaps between volumes of Mark Waid's run on "Daredevil" last year, called "Daredevil: Road Warrior". Naturally, a superhero cannot simply travel across the coast without running into some sort of adventure (or two). To this end, Mark Waid, artist Peter Krause and colorist John Kalisz provide the tale of how Matt Murdock and Kirsten MacDuffie went from New York City to San Francisco. As it turned out, there were some detours as Murdock often felt the need to investigate leads of strange goings on in his travel. One such incident led to his old enemy the Man-Bull, while the main feature of the story leads him to a strange technological creation of one of the Fantastic Four's old enemies. The end result is a very solid and engaging adventure, even if it suffers from slightly more pedestrian art and generic superhero trappings than Waid usually gets alongside his usual collaborator, Chris Samnee. Still, fans of Waid's run on the "man without fear" should definitely give this perfectly acceptable bonus issue a read.

Iron Fist: the Living Weapon #4: This additional installment of Kaare Andrews' take on the "Iron Fist" franchise unfortunately proves to be a readable but ultimately time filling affair. Most of the issue is a flashback of Danial Rand's times with his latest lover, a journalist named Brenda, briefly before the events of the first issue. Some of it offers some insight into the character, although it does seem like Andrews is attempting to play a game of catch up to make his series' female lead have more weight than she seemed. After all, Rand himself literally cannot be bothered to even remember her name. The final pages continue with a struggle against the undead, cybernetic form of his father in more traditional martial arts manners. Andrews' take on the franchise seems to attempt to mix in some the elements of the run by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction with some of the bizarre metaphors, extreme violence, and subtle sexism of a Frank Miller piece. Andrews' art is interesting and one can feel the passion of the work, even if some of the details don't seem to click.

New Warriors #7: Often times, when both sales and interest seem to be waning on a relaunched series, production increases to get out as many issues as possible before the inevitable cancellation. To this end, Chris Yost's run on "New Warriors" has now produced its' third issue within five weeks. Fortunately, Marcus To returns to handle the art after taking June off, with Ruth Redmund faithfully rendering the colors of yet another cluttered action issue. New member Haechi, who is just discovering his new powers as an Inhuman, finds himself and his family under attack by a gang of other Inhumans who believe in conquest but not in willing team members. Sun Girl proves her mettle, an old New Warrior makes a cameo, Justice continues to be a generic white superhero, and the rest of the team bickers accordingly. To's artwork is amazing as always, and Yost's TV quality knack for dialogue continue to be the highlights in a superhero team book that has a lot of fascinating ingredients, but has yet to become a quality stew.

Original Sin #5: The astonishingly not terrible Marvel Comics event offers up its' biggest instance of retroactive continuity to date. Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato essentially state that the original Nick Fury (who is now old and tended to by an army of life model decoys) became a one man "Men in Black" style agency as imagined by Jack Kirby back in the late 1950's, which has triggered these recent turns of events. The flashback and exposition takes up much of the issue, which details Fury's often brutal take on intergalactic peacekeeping. This is a fairly big retcon as far as they go, although in the end it may not do much harm. Deodato's art is always solid and one can expect a return to more traditional action in a fortnight.

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