The best, or most notable, comic books for January 29th, 2014!
Book of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #30
The creative team behind the production of IDW Comics' brilliant reboot of the core "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comic book series may have expanded from where it began a year ago, but the high quality that fans of the series have grown to expect continues to be delivered at virtually every turn of the page. This is the second part of an arc dubbed "Northampton" which sees our heroes retreating to the aforementioned country setting to lick their wounds after fleeing their last battle against the Shredder and his vastly larger and more dangerous Foot Clan syndicate. In this, co-writer and co-creator Kevin Eastman is skillfully paying homage to the original Mirage Studios comics from 1987. He is joined in scripts by longtime co-writer Tom Waltz and newer co-writer Bobby Curnow. Former "micro-series" artist Ross Campbell (who would have been the regular artist for the series had Dark Horse Comics gained the license it sought years ago) provides another issue's worth of strong pencils, which are boosted by regular colorist Ronda Pattison.
Much as with the previous issue, this arc pays homage some of the stories from the first dozen or so issues of the original TMNT series in 1987. To be specific, this issue is a virtual recreation and revamp of "True Stories" from 1987's "TMNT #11" to be specific. That tale is so iconic that the feature film from 1990 as well as the first season of the 2003 era show on FoxKids both did their own loose adaptations of it. The gist is that with the quiet country setting as the backdrop, one of the characters writes about how the rest of the cast are dealing with handling their traumas until all are united at the end. In most versions of this tale (including the original), it is April O'Neil acting as the writer/narrator for the issue via a diary entry. This version switches things up as well as makes it work in their own unique continuity by making Michelangelo the narrator, with the vehicle being a letter he is preparing to send his friend Woody - who in this series works at a pizza parlor and has long been explained as the source of the iconic food for the group. The twist gives Mikey more to do in this version as well as helps illustrate how his sensitive nature, which can often manifest as being funny or immature, can also be utilized as insight as to how others are feeling, and ultimately how to best unite them.
Long criticized for being "boring" and "stiff" in past incarnations by being the de facto leader of the Turtles, Leonardo has been broken down to his core in a risky, but wise, move in this series. Having been kidnapped by the Foot Clan and brainwashed by Shredder and his (possibly magical) aide into being his second in command, Leo is tormented by memories both real, imaginary, and even ancestral. The mutant ninja fox Alopex has followed them to Northampton after having abandoned the Foot, but her prior tricks have earned her the ire of Raphael, who fails to trust her in the slightest. Splinter is wounded and shaken by his failure to protect Leo, while Donatello is aimless without access to technology as well as worry over the ultimate plans of their second arch nemesis, General Krang. Casey and April are holed up in April's parents' house, where she learns that her currently disabled father was once a high ranking technician for Baxtor Stockman's laboratory, which was the site for many of their troubles. The state of "shell shock" that everyone is going through has obviously gotten to Mikey as well, but he has a plan to at least get everyone together in one place so they can forget their troubles for at least a few moments.
Not everyone may be fond of Campbell's style, as he could be accused of making the Turtles themselves look too "cutesy" for some. I, on the other hand, enjoy his work on this series quite a great deal and think he has a knack for drawing both mutant and human characters and being able to capture their full range of emotion. Alopex in particular usually shines under his pencils. Dream sequences where Leo appears to chat with the spirit of his mother from feudal Japan - as in this continuity, he and the rest of them are reincarnations from that era - really give Campbell and Pattison a change to flex their artistic muscles. The script, as always, seems to perfectly capture the heart of every character so well that one can practically see the love and respect that everyone has about the franchise on the panels themselves. As always, the series is unafraid to pay homage to the past of both the comic and the original cartoon (such as having April's mom be a retired journalist) as well as take things in exciting new directions, as well as introduce new mutants. A minor pet character from five issues ago makes a return in a new form, which could spell doom for our heroes' much deserved downtime.
As always, this issue succeeds for the same reason this entire run has succeeded. There is a healthy respect for the past of the franchise perfectly in harmony with a healthy desire to create new dynamics, new characters, and new situations for a truly unique experience for fans new and old. The long memories of the fans are rewarded, yet also not mindlessly expected to tolerate mindless repetition or dull ideas for the sake of nostalgia. The writing is crisp, the dialogue strong, attention to detail key and it is all usually flanked by some of the best artists not already under contract from the "big two". The upcoming film and the current animated series may not be for everyone, but this series is. Ninja Turtle fans owe it to themselves to give this series a try if they haven't already; they will be well rewarded.
Saga #18: Image Comics' critical darling by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples reaches the end of its third and with it, the start of another hiatus period. By now, the schedule of "six months issues, then a two to three month break for catch up time and a trade sale" should be well expected by fans and makes sense. It allows the creators to not be rushed and also newer fans who "wait for the trade" to catch up. It is also to appreciate a great series like this with a short break between seasons; perhaps people might actually miss Wolverine if he took a few months off from appearances now and then. The issue skillfully picks up well having brought things back to the beginning, showcasing the pursuers of Alana, Marko, and their new family finally uniting with them in the Quietus home of the author who inadvertently sparked their cross-planet marriage. There are actually no more deaths after the previous bloodbath, which is just as well as all of the characters are too good to waste in aimless death scenes. Marko's ex Gwen has an ultimate showdown between he and Alana, while Prince Robot IV barely escapes with his life. The Will's sister, apparently dubbed "the Brand", shows up and in a few short scenes seems to imply both care for her brother and a desire to get to the bottom of his near mortal wounding. The series provides a good excuse for a break by choosing to age the narrator of the tale, the infant Hazel, to toddler age for the next arc. The quality of the art and the layered dialogue are easy to take for granted, at least until one reads almost anything else. As always, this series is a beloved one for a good reason - it's quickly become of the best produced, and best selling, series in mainstream comic books. The rarity of a truly excellent book actually selling as well as it deserves to should always be appreciated.
Invincible #108: Series co-creator Robert Kirkman has announced some big changes to the title he and Cory Walker built for later in the year, and it stands to reason part of that is due to having to constantly come up with ways to challenge and rework this franchise into new and interesting places after over a hundred issues. Sometimes his efforts thrill, sometimes they flop, and sometimes they're in the middle. This issue winds up in the latter and may have been better if not for foreshadowing which is so blunt that it should be saved only for parody. Atom Eve warns Invincible not to go on some cross dimensional revenge quest for Angstrom Levy, fearing something awful will happen. Mark ignores her, and ultimately something awful happens. The issue also expects us to be shocked as to Levy's fate, even though the cover gives this away immediately. It seems as if Kirkman has chosen to sacrifice the one long term nemesis his titular hero had left just to give him an arc where he's betrayed by a friend - albeit one of his closest ones. Even that might have been more of a shock if a previous arc hadn't spent a lot of time and energy convincing the reader that Robot has devolved into a militant tyrant, capable of working on global scales, with both long winded lectures and double page splashes. The art by longtime artist Ryan Ottley is terrific as ever, even if by now there seems to be no locale he hasn't drawn or any shocking bit of gore he has yet to detail. The "Dinosaurus" arc seemed to be stretched beyond its length by mindless splash pages; this one seems telegraphed so crudely as if not to lose the slowest in the audience. Overall, a fine comic, but perhaps no longer of the title of "the best superhero comic book in the universe". Mark Waid's "Daredevil" or the relaunched "Black Widow" could easily dethrone that claim.
Super-Dinosaur #21: If it seems like it has been ages since the last issue of this "all ages" comic by Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard, that's only because it is. Issue twenty came out at the end of August; a jaw dropping gap of four months (which would have been five if January didn't happen to have five Wednesdays this year). Unlike "Saga", this was hardly a planned gap which took place at a natural story point; it was simply the inability for this creative team to produce steady monthly or bi-monthly issues which has become their norm since their collaboration on the far better (and more violent) "Astounding Wolf-Man". At any rate, Derek and the titular Super-Dino venture to one of the many lost bases of their enemy Max Maximus looking for a MacGuffin to revive Derek's comatose mother. What they find instead is an alliance of all of their worst "dinosaur-men" foes working under their new enemy, Tyrannosaurs X. Thankfully, all of the rogues are listed and named in classic Chris Claremont style. The mission goes wrong and the baddies invade Derek's home. The art is great and there are a few simple laughs, but this is too simple a series to withstand such long breaks. Were this an animated series on Cartoon Network it'd be at the top of the heap, but as a Kirkman comic it is often outdone by his previous work. This has always been a simple but fun series, although it may get easier to forget it the longer it is not around.
Superior Spider-Man #26: The official start of the end of this era of Spider-Man, as a rehash of "Goblin War" comes and goes. Dan Slott writes a script for an increasing cast of artists (Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, and Javier Rodriguez), inkers, and colorists - almost enough for a football team's starting line up. Ramos handles the "Goblin" segments, which works to his strengths with monstrous characters. The Green Goblin's own army of villains takes on the cadre of "franchise villains" established by Roderick Kingsley - the original Hobgoblin. The "Goblin King" lays more groundwork towards his identity being that of the true Norman Osborn (who has been sorely missed in the role), while Slott wisely avoids wasting Kingsley in a death scene - his work on the 80's rogue has been stellar so far. Martin and Rodriguez work on the rest of the issue, where the "ghost" of Peter Parker attempts to piece together his identity from the few memories Dr. Octopus kept, while Ock (still in Spidey's body) seems to prove to the suspicious Avengers that one really can run from problems. The hilarious irony is that in 2007 Marvel moved heaven and earth to get Peter apart from MJ so he could be a bachelor again, yet now among the few romantic memories Ock may have left Peter with would be of her. The Avengers finally catching on that their ally has become possessed by a villain with dialogue ripped from a Saturday morning cartoon is appreciated, but it may be too little, too late for them to appear effectual. Above all, a solid issue which moves things along properly to a final act, even if a bit belatedly.
Uncanny Avengers #16: A well drawn and paced fight between Thor and one of the lead villains of the arc can't save Rick Remender's series from spiraling into a mess. His long term arc about time traveling villains, Celestial implications and deaths all but screaming to be undone in time for a film is even more complicated than it lets on. Steve McNiven does some great artwork for the action here, which takes up much of the issue as the only Avengers left - Cap, Thor, and Wasp - attempt to rally for a victory against two of their deadliest foes yet. Still, it seems like a draft from "Uncanny X-Force" which has become puffed up with a bigger budget on a larger stage, and hasn't benefited from such padding. What began as a "unity team" has devolved into a lot of furious nonsense, with the next arc promising to be more of the same. At $3.99 an issue, it becomes difficult to forgive this with every passing month.