Trouble with Comics
Review: The Discipline #1 and Another Castle #1

The Discipline is the controversial new comic from Peter Milligan, Leandro Fernandez, and Cris Peter. Explicitly dealing with (inhuman) sex, art, and class, on the surface, The Discipline has nothing in common with Another Castle, the debut comic from Comics Alliance editor Andrew Wheeler and up-and-coming artist Paulina Ganucheau. Another Castle is all-ages and deconstructs the trope of the princess in need of rescuing. At their heart though, both comics examine female protagonists trapped by societal convention. Only one of them offers the possibility of a happy ending.

Amusingly, The Discipline opens with that happy ending, as 23 year old Melissa engages in a bout of vigorous lizard-person form sex with Orlando, a mysterious being sent to recruit her into the titular organization. The rest of the comic is a flashback, revealing how Melissa is married to the filthy-rich Andrew, but comes from a lower-class background herself. Now she lives an idle life, not even using her English degree in a job at publishing house any more. She exercises, goes to the museum to look at (apparently fictional) Goya paintings, and gossips with her friends about how her husband is absent from her life. She tries to give some of Andrew’s money to her family, but they rebuff her. Milligan and Fernandez’s last comic, The Names, was ostensibly a critique of the One Percent. It did not quite work, but the pair accomplishes everything it seemed to try to do there in a few pages of The Discipline. Everything about the absent Andrew seems utterly contemptible, and while Melissa complaining about her lifestyle should not endear reader sympathy, there’s no denying the emptiness of that lifestyle at its core. In this scenario, it’s easy to root for Orlando (likely an allusion to the Virginia Woolf novel, which was used by Alan Moore in later League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books)in to seduce Melissa, particularly when he actually rebuffs her first attempt to get him into bed. The first issue does not reveal anything about the Discipline itself, but it at least implies to the reader that it’s about more than the mind-blowing, body-altering sex on the opening pages; there’s a spiritual component, and that’s as intriguing as the titillating imagery.

If only things looked so promising for Princess Misty, the protagonist of Another Castle. The only daughter of the king of Beldora, she’s promised to wed the foppish Pete and by her own admission, has no friends only “hair and make-up.” She wants to take a more active role in the kingdom, but that’s prohibited by “Don Diego’s Code of Conduct” (not that she’s read it). The villain of the book, Lord Badlug the Terrible, captures her on page seven, after Misty carelessly heads off when she (and she alone) spots one of his spies, then goes off into the forest to try and find out more. The very nature of this trap depends on Badlug knowing how Misty chafes in her role and wants something more out of life than marriage to Pete and babies. Rather than playing off the knowledge her and trying to seduce her, he imprisons her, intent on holding a forced wedding (Badlug is cursed and cannot leave his own kingdom. Marrying Misty would expand his kingdom, once her father died).  Wheeler and Ganucheau, to their credit, do not portray Misty as being passive in the situation; she actually escapes, but returns to captivity when confronted with the depths of Badlug’s depravity and anger. She vows to do everything in her power to fight him from there, so as to avoid what happened the last time he kidnapped a princess. Unfortunately, from what we see in this first issue, defeating Badlug is the only sort of a happy ending Misty can look forward; the society around her, despite its bright trappings, is too restrained by tradition to allow her to be herself. The book would be far more interesting if Badlug was portrayed as responding to that aspect of Misty, so that she would be torn between her desire for self-actualization and desire to protect her kingdom. Instead, there’s no real conflict here and apparently no way for the heroine to get an ending worth rooting for, either.

by Joe Gualtieri

Capsule Reviews

Captain Marvel #1 by Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, Kris Anka, and Matthew Wilson

A solid first issue that does a good job of establishing Carol Danvers’s new status quo as head of the new version of Alpha Flight, which is apparently the new version of SWORD. The art by Anka and Wilson is crisp and clean; this is a nice looking book, which I could not say about the title when it launched in 2012 with Dexter Soy as the artist. If there’s a flaw here, it’s a tendency by Fazekas and Butters to not introduce the supporting players. Aurora and Sasquatch are called out in identifier captions, but there’s nothing else about them. Abigail Brand and Puck receive more prominent roles, but it feels like key information is missing for new readers, particularly that Puck’s small stature is the result of a mystical curse, when he complains how much pain he’s in due to his size. Still, those concerns aside this is a solid and fun book.

Clean Room #2-4 by Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunter, and Quinton Winter

I enjoyed the first issue of Clean Room, but it felt like it didn’t go much beyond the idea of a comic examining the cultural footprint of Scientology. The second issue is a superb horror comic and the fourth in particular feels like it expands the title beyond the Scientology box. This is very close to becoming DC’s best comic.

Citizen Jack #1 by Sam Humphries, Tommy Patterson, and Jon Alderink

We all have our pet peeves and one of mine is when the first issue of a comic is basically just a dramatized version of the solicitation copy. I mean, okay, the solicitation probably didn’t mention Cricket, the dolphin political pundit, but if you’re selling your comic with the premise that it’s about a politician selling his soul to the devil to get elected president, don’t end your first issue with him selling his soul. Let me put it another way, if this comic was published by Valiant, this wouldn’t be #1, it would be #0. Maybe I’ll give this another try when the trade hits, but as it is I feel like I gave it a shot and the creative team gave me nothing I couldn’t get from a blurb in Previews.

New Romancer #1 by Peter Milligan and Brett Parson

Well, it’s better than Greek Street. Oddly, despite the bloody last two pages, this does not feel at all like a Vertigo book, it seems like it’s aimed mainly at female teenagers, largely due to Parson’s utterly gorgeous art, which if it has any antecedent in Vertigo history, it’s probably Phillip Bond. The book’s lead, Alexia Ryan, is a programmer for an online dating site. A Weird Science-like accident (the film, not the EC Comic) leads to her algorithm coming to life as Lord Byron. Some hijinks ensue, and the last page implies things won’t be all fun and games. Overall, this is a solid start, but as always, there is the distinct possibility of things turning with Milligan, who is probably the least consistent great writer in comics history.

The Shield #1 by Adam Cristopher, Chuck Wendig, Drew Johnson, and Kelly Fitzpatrick

Nice looking, but boring. Cristopher and Wendig’s reinvention of the Shield as a perpetually reincarnated spirit of America hits notes genre fans have seen time and time again. And at least give her a shield, considering it’s the book’s title and the most famous aspect of the character (at least the Impact version was wearing shield-like armor).

– Joe Gualtieri

The Eternal Warrior - An Overview by Joseph Gualtieri

With Wrath of the Eternal Warrior by Robert Vendetti and Raul Allen due out this week from Valiant, it seems like a good time to look back at the extant Eternal Warrior trades from the current Valiant Universe.

Sword of the Wild by Greg Pak, Trevor Hairsine, and others - The chapters in this volume have sections alternating between ancient Mesopotamia and the present day. In the earlier timeline, Gilad and his children have a pivotal encounter with a death cult, while latter has Gilad returning to action after about a break. There’s one other flashback in the book, to 1877, where Gilad loses faith in the Geomancer and puts away his weapons. Okay, this is probably sounding a little complex for those not familiar with Valiant. It really isn’t. Gilad, the titular Eternal Warrior, is one of three immortal brothers; he works for the Geomancer, a rotating position of sort-of-magicians who can communicate with the spirit of the Earth. Think Arthur and Merlin, but Arthur never dies and Merlin’s the Doctor from The Authority, but less powerful.  So Gilad has his crisis of conscience in 1877, but is called into action by his daughter, who’s attracted the attention of the death cult from Ancient Mesopotamia, as she’s filled in for Gilad with the Geomancer. Pak’s script does an excellent job of conveying Giad’s weariness at 8,000 years of life and fighting, and his desire now to find something new. The one problem with the writing is that Gilad retires too early; it is a little hard to buy that he’s an expert in modern munitions if he’s been retired since 1877. Unfortunately, the art is not as strong. Hairsine’s never been the strongest artist, and while he’s advanced here from just being a Bryan Hitch clone, his slowness creates an inconsistent look for the comic. He draws all of the first issue only. The flashbacks in each issue should lighten the load, Hairsine can’t even draw all of the modern day sequences in the middle issues.

Eternal Emperor by Greg Pak and Robert Gill - Pak’s second arc leaps forward to 4001, where Gilad is living in a small, peaceful village with his young granddaughter. The peace is shattered by an attack by a robot which Gilad defeats, but the robot contains a nuclear bomb. Gilad takes his granddaughter with him on a quest, hopeful that they will find anti-radiation medicine, but if not, to avenge his people. What follows has plenty of action, but is largely a mediation on the violent nature of mankind and the cyclical nature of human civilization. Pak is not writing A Cancticle for Liebowitz, exactly, but it’s well done, and he even manages to make the device of the granddaughter pay off. Robert Gill is not the best artist at Valiant, but he’s good, and delivers more consistency than Hairsine did on the prior volume.

Days of Steel by Peter Milligan and Cary Nord - This volume is slight, reprinting three issues, but it feels a little padded even at that length. Millgan’s story is a simple one, but it’s effectively told and well illustrated by Nord. In the 13th century, the Geomancer sends Gilad to protect the savior of the Franks from the Magyars, who is born with a mark on his face. To Gilad’s surprise, the boy’s mother gave birth to twins, both with the mark. Gilad takes one of the brothers, who grows up sickly, but with an aptitude for music while the other stays with his parents and becomes more of a fighter. Most readers will figure out that the sickly brother’s songs will inspire the Franks long before Gilad, but Milligan effectively conveys his angst over whether or not he made the right decision about the twins, which dovetails nicely with the misgivings about the Geomancers from Pak’s first volume. The focus on the song acting the virus makes the story of piece with explorations of media in some of Milligan’s other works, like X-Statix.

Of these three, Eternal Emperor is unquestionably the strongest work, and among the best comics Valiant has put out since its resurrection (which is no small feat). That being said, Sword of the Wild is more strongly connected to the Valiant universe, if you’re looking for an entry point. Days of Steel is skippable, but it’s a fun trifle, especially for Milligan fans.

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Three – The Dark and the Not So Bright

The Fury of Firestorm #1 by Ethan Van Sciver, Gail Simone and Yildiray Cinar has one good element at its core (I guess that pun is intended) and that’s the issue of race. Before high school quarterback Ronnie Raymond and school reporter Jason Rusch are linked to the Firestorm Protocol, they are just kids who don’t get along because Jason accuses Ronnie of racism. It′s not that Ronnie says or does anything to provoke this, which shows Simones subtlety and sure hand; its that Jason is angry and maybe jealous of Ronnie′s minor celebrity and plays the race card, with the effect of actually getting Ronnie to wonder why it is he and his mother don’t have any black friends, even as he′s angry at Jason for bringing the question to light. 

That’s the most interesting part of the issue, with the rest being rather unconvincing stuff involving a threesome of handsome American terrorists tracking the remaining particle to Jason, leading to the transformation of our two male leads into the superpowered version of The Defiant Ones. None of that is very interesting, with average, Bob McLeod style art from Cinar and the same made-up teen lingo (″Ill casket you!″) Simone used to ill effect in Batgirl. I give it credit for trying to be about something for half its length, but its not enough to keep me around.

Teen Titans #1 by Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth is one of many DC books determined to bring back the ′90s. Hey, the title of the issue is even, Teen Spirit, and you’ve got ′90s X-writer Lobdell and ′90s Image artist Booth, looking about the same. Lobdell doesn’t do such a bad job, though gathering just two heroes together for the eventual team seems a little sluggish. Red Robin, the Cassie Sandsmark Wonder Girl, and Superboy—none of these are characters who I feel like I′m missing out on. I actually liked Lobdell′s Superboy debut, so hopefully I can just read that without having to follow this one.

I, Vampire #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino is the most Vertigoesque of the new books, a nod to Twilight and True Blood with its star-crossed lovers and that one special vampire guy who sees humans as more than walking blood bags. This vampire, Andrew, has been (un)living for 400 years with guilt over turning the sweet Mary into what she is today, a bloodsucker about to go to war against humanity with the rest of her kind. This isn’t an original comment, but yes, Sorrentino′s art does look a lot like Jae Lee, and that’s a good thing, as the book calls for a style that’s someber and still, though maybe Fialkov could have broken things up a bit with a flashback to sunnier times. I think Fialkov may be in for a tough go trying to reconcile this world with the rest of the metahuman-filled DCU, but for now, we′re off to a good start.

The Flash #1 by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato is a nice-looking book that brought me back a little bit to the first time I ever was interested in The Flash, the Waid/Wieringo run. Oh, its not that Manapul is busting out fresh concepts like the Speed Force or anything, but what as a new writer he may lack in making Barry Allen much more interesting than the norm, he makes up for with an engaging, softer art style that looks like color over pencils, sans ink, and a willingness to play with page layouts and an organic use of sound effects that stands head and shoulders over what we can now say with authority is an overwhelming lack of artistic ambition on the part of 90% of the other DC artists.  I think Manapul could do a better job introducing his supporting cast for maximum impact, but I do like that he seems to understand that one way to make boring Barry more interesting is to have two women interested in him. 

Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin is the most interesting and competent of the many team books DC has unleashed the past month. As he has shown the past few years in Hellblazer, Milligan is expert at damaged characters who still have something to offer, and now, in addition to roping in John Constantine and early success Shade The Changing Man, he has the scarred soothsayer Madame Xanadu, the daft, haunted June Moone, the resourceful but insecure Zatanna, and even the searching Deadman, who are all being slowly drawn together to go up against The Enchantress, who has already defeated the regular Justice League. 

Janin is a new name to me, but I like the style, which is dark but grounded. Obviously this is a title that’s going to call for some out-of-the-box storytelling, so hopefully he can keep growing in that regard. I guess my only concern is that Milligan has his work cut out for him trying to make each of these strange loners distinct, but I trust he will be up to the task.

And that’s it, the whole 52 aside from Green Lantern Corps, a title that I missed. I think that’s thorough enough. I can say that the majority of these books are not ones I will continue to follow, but I will say there are more I liked than I expected, so that’s something. The ones I wont stick with mostly fail by being mediocre, the titillating or offensive elements unfortunate but probably overly remarked upon. I don’t think reaching more women, kids or non-Caucasians was ever a serious goal, and the few who are offended are likely to keep reading anyway. What folks should really be more demanding of are better stories, more adventurous art, more risks taken. The relaunch has been considered by many to be a kind of last ditch attempt at new readers and relevance, and so the problem is not that Starfire is a slut or Catwoman and Batman get it on, but that to those writers′ minds, and their editors, this represents risk and a bold attempt at taking the characters into new territory. At the same time, maybe 15% of the books show some inventiveness and fresh approaches that aren’t based on exploitation, with another chunk of the books being familiar but competent entertainments. That’s not a bad average overall.

–Christopher Allen

The New DC 51 - Frankie, Death and Red & Green

The alphabetical mystery tour continues with the writers of the new DCU acting as the guides for which book comes next on the reading list.

Deathstroke #1 has the return of the DC’s version of The Punisher.  He’s still a grey-haired one-eyed mercenary who has enhanced strength, quick reflexes and a very bad attitude.

It’s a strange thing:  after the tremendous darkness of Suicide Squad (which was all about establishing characters and nothing about plot) and the disappointment of both Grifter and Resurrection Man (which had a lot of plot but did nothing to make the main character captivating), I found Deathstroke somewhat entertaining.

It’s nasty and bloody and hardass, but it is consistent in presenting the character, establishing his motives and setting him down a path of death, destruction and lots of killing.

Writer Kyle Higgins and artists Joe Bennett and Art Thibert do a good job of making the book interesting as well as making it violent as hell.  I could see some people really enjoying this comic.  Which isn’t to say I’m going to put it on my ‘buy’ list because it’s just not my cup of tea.  But if someone said they enjoyed the book enough to buy the next issue, I wouldn’t try to convince them that they’re wrong. 

Much like Dan Didio saying he wanted to write OMAC, it’s got to be good to be the Chief Creative Officer at DC because it means that while every other book gets its creative teams shuffled for the re-boot, the CCO can say, “Um, no.  That rule doesn’t apply to me.”  Rank has its privileges, it’s good to be the king, and the rules don’t apply to Geoff Johns.

The rules also don’t apply to Green Lantern #1.  While every other book in the line (with the possible exception of Batwoman) has had to adjust to the new DCU, Green Lantern just picks up where it left off before the reboot.

Oh there was that major plot change at the end of the “War of the Green Lanterns” that had Hal Jordan kicked out of the corps and Sinestro once again becoming a Green Lantern, but everything else is a direct continuation of the series: Johns is still writing, Doug Mahnke is delivering terrific art and, unfortunately, the book continues on its downward spiral as it gets more and more tired.

Green Lantern worked best when there was just one or, at most, two books in its Guardian-mentored corner of the DC Universe.  But in the new DCU there will now be four books dealing with various Guardians and Lanterns.

And with all of the intergalactic adventuring occurring in the other comics, this book suffers because it is earthbound and so very Hal Jordan-centered.  Hal belongs in outer space as the leader of the corps, and instead he is being literally grounded.  Over the years the character of Sinestro has become semi-sympathetic, house-tamed and neutered.  He’s no longer a villain. He just wants what’s best for the Corps and he’ll kill a bunch of people to prove his point.  Or he’ll get mad.  And then he’ll threaten people.  And then not do anything. All of it depends on Geoff Johns’ mood because there’s no consistency to the character anymore.

Geoff Johns only seems happy when a character is getting an arm ripped off or there’s a big sprawling intergalactic crossover event being planned.  If there’s not a major catastrophe that will demand that all of the heroes in the universe gather together to battle the Black Sinestro Lantern Corps, then Johns’ heart doesn’t seem to be in the book because his focus is always on The Next Big Thing. So this issue feels like it’s just treading water until something amazing occurs six months from now.

Skipping one letter in the alphabetical author adventure in order to continue with the Lanterns, Peter Milligan is a writer who has produced some amazing work over the years.  When he’s good, he’s great: Shade the Changing Man, X-Statix, Enigma, the current Hellblazer and his brilliant six issue follow-up to Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man are all works to treasure.  But when he’s off his game we get Infinity Inc. and Elektra.  His crazy Vertigo-esque, off-in-its-own-universe work can be amazing; his superhero stuff is less so.

Therefore it’s not too surprising that Red Lanterns #1 is such a mess.  To be honest, the concept itself doomed the book to failure.  Because, ummm let’s see, it stars characters that puke blood, they are so filled with rage that they can barely speak, and did I mention they puke blood?  The Red Lanterns concept has got to be among the very worst ideas original creator Geoff Johns has ever came up with. I can only imagine what it must have sounded like…

“Hey guys, I know that the Green Lanterns have rings and the Yellow Lanterns have rings and Star Sapphire has a ring or a jewel or something, but what if the Red Lanterns don’t have rings, but they have something like vomit and it’s red and it’s got nothing to do with a lantern but they throw up like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly and they’re mad all the time? Doesn’t that sound great?”

It’s not Peter Milligan’s fault the book is a mess.  The concept was a disaster to begin with. And yet someone at DC decided to give those characters their own book.  And Xombi isn’t being published anymore. It’s kind of depressing if you think about it.

But then along comes  Jeff Lemire to make things feel better.  Writer/artist of Vertigo’s Sweet Tooth, writer of the new DCU Animal Man and the writer who is taking Mary Shelley’s monster into superhero magnificence.

Using Grant Morrison’s mini-series from Seven Soldiers as its springboard, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 is a throwback to the monster books of the ‘70s when there were Werewolves by night, Vampires by night and Man, Muck and Swamp Things every time of the day.  The artwork by Alberto Ponticelli looks like a terrific amalgamation of Lemire’s own artistic style with some Wrightson, Mahnke, Kirby and Walter Simonson as well.  (And just to justify the last comparison, I can’t look at a mummy in a comic book and help but compare it to Simonson’s work.  No one can draw a mummy like Simonson, but Ponticelli comes damn close.)  Best known in North American for his work on the Vertigo book Unknown Soldier, Ponticelli’s work manages to be both monstrous and superheroic.  He is the perfect artist for a book like this.

(We now interrupt this review for a public service request:  HEY DC!  How about publishing some huge, gorgeous books that collect all of the work Walter Simonson did for your company!! From Manhunter to Doctor Fate to Orion and everything in between.  The Mighty Thor – The Artist’s Edition from IDW is a thing of majestic beauty.  So how about adding to the love and publishing a couple of omnibus editions of Simonson’s artwork.  Please?? à and now back to our regularly scheduled Frankenstein…)

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. is filled with enough ideas for six month’s worth of material in an average comic book.  Yes, much of it builds on Grant Morrison’s ideas and the old Creature Commandos concept, but here’s just a sampling of the crazy goodness in this comic –  a microscopic headquarters, a group leader named Father Time who looks like a six year old girl, a monster named Frankenstein who is concerned about the bride who was literally made for him but never truly loved him, a town that will be nuked into oblivion unless our ‘hero’ can destroy the monsters who have taken control and a former superhero scientist who for now at least is only there as an advisor.  All of those ideas and the terrific art makes for a terrific first issue and one of the best in the entire re-launch.

–Kevin Pasquino

The New DC 52 Week Two, Part Two

As I tuck into the next steaming plate of DC reboots, I find myself sympathetic to the editors and writers in charge of this, let¢s be honest, pretty much impossible mandate to present a refreshed DC Universe that is accessible to new readers while honoring not just existing readers, but also servicing the numerous trademarks of characters a truly fresh relaunch would have made defunct.

Take Batman and Robin #1, by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, which reads very much like the pre-relaunch version of the book, except now Bruce Wayne is fully Batman and it is he, not Dick Grayson, teaming up with Bruce¢s son Damian in the role of Robin. Now, although it hasn’t been made very clear, probably by design, but Bruce has obviously been Batman for at least five years. If only five, that means that Dick, Jason Todd and Tim Drake have all not only had brief careers as Robin, but have grown up enough to leave the nest/cave and strike out on their own, with new superhero identities. That’s preposterous, but since DC has to service these trademarks, there you go. Obviously, it would have been better for only Dick to have been Robin, followed by Damian (if you even need Damian). I don’t know intellectual property law, but does DC think that if they don’t use these characters all the time, Marvel or Image are going to publish their own Red Robin or Damian Wayne comics?

Anyway, it¢s a curious issue, with little action, and most of what we see being Bruce trying to get Damian to get what he¢s trying to do with respecting the memories of his dead parents while moving away from being obsessed with their murders, and Damian acting like a heartless little shit. I didn’t mind that, as Damian is often written that way, but of course there is more to him than that. And I like the idea of Bruce now honoring only his parents¢ wedding anniversary rather than the date they died, which is a nice idea of Tomasi¢s and a smart way to sort of shut the door on one era and open a new door onto maybe a brighter one. On the other hand, shame neither Tomasi nor Gleason realized it was sort of dumb to have this bright start result from the same clichéd shot of Bruce brooding in his dark old mansion. How about some renovation to visually sell the new outlook?

Suicide Squad #1 by Adam Glass and Federico Dallocchio is a book I wanted to like, being a big fan of the original series, but it has a lot of work to do to get me past this initial bad impression. We meet Deadshot, Harley Quinn (in a racier, non-harlequin ensemble), King Shark and others, being tortured for what they know about the Suicide Squad. We flash back to the group on a mission, showing what they can do. Back to the present and one guy is willing to talk, which gets him killed. Everyone else is tight-lipped, and we find out it was just a test by a younger, thinner Amanda Waller. Since the remaining victims/prisoners/operatives know how to keep their mouths shut, there is hope for them to eventually earn their release, or at least keep doing the government¢s dirty work a while longer.

Nothing really wrong with the idea or the structure, but Glass¢ execution is gratuitous with the blood and torture, and all the characters are loathsome. Deadshot and Harley have been shown to have dimension in the past, but not here. Sure, it is just the first issue, but there needed to be a reason to care here, and I didn’t find one. And while I can appreciate that Dallocchio went for a different style in the flashbacks than the current time, well, the flashback wasn’t far back enough to need it, and neither style is all that interesting.

Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke was entertaining enough, and well-drawn, but almost all of the story beats depend on some familiarity with Green Lantern to make sense, or at least have the desired impact. First, we get someone reciting the famous (for Green Lantern fans) oath, and then, whoa, is that Sinestro reciting it? That’s a real shocker (for Green Lantern fans). If you¢re new to it, it doesn’t mean anything. Then we get the Guardians of Oa, whose role is not explained, agreeing to let the green-uniformed Sinestro go protect his sector with the ring, because the ring chose him, even if they disagree with his methods. Only Ganthet is against the idea, so he is tortured. So, that’s kind of interesting, in that in some way maybe we¢re supposed to root for Sinestro, the nonconformist. Got it.

We next meet broke Hal Jordan, attempting to kite a check for overdue rent, but he is interrupted by a scream for help that makes it through a closed windown in the apartment across the street. It looks like a guy is going to rape or kill her. Hal jumps from his balcony across and through the window, only to find that it’s a (non-porn) movie being shot in the apartment, and its then that he sheepishly realizes he fell for the same thing Peter Parker did 40 years ago.

No worries, because Carol Ferris bails him out of jail, and Johns adds the odd touch that she somehow knows the policeman on duty. Hal explains what he was doing, but Carol tells him he¢s not Green Lantern anymore (why he isn’t isn’t explained), and though he wants to be a pilot again, he¢s uninsurable (as an insurance guy, I would say it¢s unlikely an insurer would dig into the flying careers of each pilot, but whatever), but he has a job in another capacity if he wants it. We find out he had to give up the ring but not why, and that Carol also had a Star Sapphire ring but hasn’t worn it lately and doesn’t plan to (which would only make sense to fans).

We catch up with Sinestro passively watching (via green telescope, which isn’t made clear is created by his ring) a bunch of guys in yellow uniforms restraining, blasting and killing people, and then suddenly he is attacked by one who feels Sinestro betrayed their Corps. Sinestro garottes him and says he betrayed nothing, and for all non-fans know, he may be right. It isn’t made clear that Sinestro used to be in charge of these guys in yellow, but I suppose most readers will at least understand he has been away awhile and needs to put his house in order.

Back to Hal, who has asked Carol to a fancy restaurant, the kind with stainless steel lids over the entrees, waiters in vests, and patrons wearing pearls. What a great place for a guy with no money to ask his new/old boss and apparent friend…to cosign a new car loan? He rightly gets ice water in the face, and in Johns¢ defense, he has no need of continuity crutches to write Hal as a selfish, manipulative asshole. 

But that’s okay, because we aren’t supposed to care that much about Hal, right? Its Sinestros book, and that’s why he gets the last, full page word, telling the now-evicted, no-options Hal that if he wants his ring back, he has to do whatever Sinestro tells him.

This part is actually fun (although much moreso for fans), because while I was kidding about whose book it was, it might be a good story to have Hal serving Sinestro, who clearly isn’t a hero in the classic mold. Maybe the humbling will make Hal a better person, and maybe he will have to be resourceful to get out from under Sinestros black-laquered thumb. For this and the clean art, Im in, though it really would have been nice if DC just provided a Marvel-style summary of what went before, so Johns and other writers didn’t have to labor to work in (or in this case, completely blow off) the exposition.

Red Lanterns #1 by Peter Milligan and Ed Benes does a much better job setting up its main character and where he has been before this point, and I have only read one or two comics where he briefly appeared. A big ugly red guy using a power ring fueled by rage, named Atrocitus, is honestly a lot less to work with than Sinestro, much less Hal Jordan, but damn if Milligan doesn’t make him sympathetic and efficiently present characters much less sympathetic, in both the blue aliens trying to kill his loathsome, vomit-spitting cat, Dex-Starr, and the other Red Lanterns themselves, that make Atrocitus look much better by comparison. This is the kind of thing Johns sort of whiffed on in his scene with Sinestro and the Sinestro Corps. I can¢t say I am a big Ed Benes fan, as his skills with big muscles and glinting metal are somewhat undone by his misinterpreting the intent of some scenes. I mean, this inarticulate, vampire/Harley Quinn-looking chick—we are supposed to despise her in this scene, not drool over her great ass. This would seem to be B-level Milligan work, but subpar Milligan is still better than a lot of scribes out there. I¢ll be sticking with this one for now.

–Christopher Allen

Fear Itself Tie-Ins

With the fourth of seven issues of the main Fear Itself miniseries published, we’re at the halfway point of Marvel’s latest event. I’ve actually been pretty impressed with how most of the ongoing series have been able to incorporate the storyline into their own series without completely losing their own plot threads or identity, while for the most part the tie-in miniseries, while not “necessary”, are pretty good, too.

Thunderbolts #160 by Jeff Parker/Declan Shalvey.

As The Raft supervillain prison island is rocked by the impact of one of the Seven Hammers and upgrade/escape of Juggernaut, I like the T-Bolts B Team biding their time for  when they attempt their own escape. It’s much smarter than usual supervillain behavior, and well in keeping with Thunderbolts tradition. I’m also really digging Shalvey’s art, which is somehow cartoonish, fragile, humorous and horrific at the same time. Bright future for that guy, maybe. I’ve always said that for a second-tier superteam book to work, you need not only a good writer but a distinctive artist. If I had any complaints about this issue or the recent issues of this series, it’s only that Luke Cage has dropped out of being the lead, but it’s really fine, as Parker has found good handles on Moonstone, Songbird, Ghost and the others. I even like Satana.

Heroes For Hire #9 by Dan Abnett/ & Andy Lanning/Kyle Hotz.

This one also takes place at and around The Raft, with a new monster created from a chemical spill and Killgrave the Purple Man using his powers to control a bunch of unnamed villains to protect him from capture. As is usual for the book, Misty Knight coordinates and seems not to understand when Paladin cannot fight and talk to her at the same time. The premise for the book is the same: Paladin joined by Marvel B-and-C-listers, in this case Gargoyle, Shroud, and used-to-be-somebody Elektra. An assassin like her is a bad fit for this rotating team, and Abnett/Lanning know this, having her receive twice her regular rate not to kill anybody. Not a great idea, and it leads me to think some of these characters are forced on the writers by editorial. Hotz isn’t an artist I’ve really liked much, as I find his exaggerated musclemen and pixieish women often don’t fit the tone of the material (a la Bret Blevins), but since there’s a big monster angle here, it works okay. Although DnA have done a nice job making Paladin interesting, the series is still struggling to stand out, and the lack of a consistent art team doesn’t help.

Uncanny X-Men #540 by Kieron Gillen/Greg Land.

What’s with all the Juggernaught love?? I get that he’s a good villain and the costume redesign is pretty cool (how do the six eyeholes work with a two-eyed guy again?), but it seems like some of the other “Worthy” are not getting as much attention. As Cyclops, who clearly should be relying on Warren or someone else to speak to civilians due to his lack of tact, tries to reassure the mayor that San Francisco’s safety while other major cities burn is not due to the X-Men making some sort of deal with the Norse menaces, Juggy shows up, turns a nobody into his herald, and threatens the decadent SF with destruction. I like the idea of the X-Men having to protect the city from a homophobic threat, but I think Gillen should have saved it for another day, as human sexuality seems well beneath the notice of these old Norse gods.

Fear Itself: The Home Front #1-3 (of 7) by Christos Gage/Mike Mayhew/Peter Milligan/Elia Bonetti/Howard Chaykin/Various.

Having a separate miniseries with short stories spotlighting non-essential characters affected by the main event is a solid idea, and one Marvel has done in the past. I think they get the most out of it here, with a fine Gage/Mayhew serial story that finds Speedball trying to make some sort of amends for the Stamford tragedy by working for the woman whose son he indirectly killed, at first in disguise and then openly once they come to terms. Good take on a character who has long been misused; he’s actually better here than in Gage’s own Avengers Academy. Still, Juggernaut again?! Milligan writes a decent Agents of Atlas adventure as they try to discern what the Red Skull and the Thule Society were doing by torturing Atlanteans in WWII. Jimmy Woo is cracking up due to fear and his relationship with Namora is not only out in the open but falling apart. Both stories take up most of the issue and present compelling emotional conflicts, unlike a lot of your typical tie-in nonsense that usually just fleshes out plot points that didn’t need it. Chaykin is given one or two pages per issue to tell curious little anecdotes that should shed light on the human side of Fear Itself but unfortunately are really forgettable and barely coherent. The final slot in each issue is given to a short by a different creative team. The third issue has an interesting, really downbeat Cardiac story by Ben McCool and Mike DelMundo. Not fantastic work from either, but good enough that it should hopefully lead to other opportunities.

Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #1 (of 4) by Brandon Montclare/Michael Wm. Kaluta/Ryan Bodunheim/Simon Bisley.

First, I’m happy for this relatively unknown Montclare guy that he gets to work with a couple big names in Kaluta and Bisley, even if neither are exactly going all-out on their artwork. I don’t really get why you have three artists with totally different styles on a linear, non-modular series, either, as the results are always jarring. The story is fairly ludicrous and another example of throwing some lesser heroes together for trademark servicing. Man-Thing is going nuts due to all the fear in the air, so his old buddy Howard the Duck recruits She-Hulk to help stop him. And then Nighthawk shows up, written as a grinning, psycho Batman, and then they see Frankenstein’s Monster, who does nothing but say, “leave me alone” as he punts Howard off the page. Other than having a decent take on the Howard/Man-Thing relationship, I’m not sure what Montclare is going for here, and none of the characters shine. Howard is deadly serious, which to me robs the character of much of his interest, and She-Hulk has no personality at all. I didn’t care for Bodunheim’s depiction, which is basically the movie version of Howard. Kaluta does fine, but drawing Nighthawk beating up thugs seems like a waste of his talents. Bisley shows up at the end, briefly drawing a classic Howard before reality warps and the entire tossed-together team is all buff and monstrous. Not a bad call to have Bisley draw this, but if they’re going to stay like this for long, the series will be in even worse shape than it started here.

–Christopher Allen

The Bronx Kill

Writer - Peter Milligan

Artist - James Romberger

Publisher - Vertigo. $12.99 USD

Vertigo took some well-deserved flak last year for its Vertigo Crime imprint, a series of thin hardcover graphic novels that look similar in design to real novels and cost the same, but for much simpler stories and often mediocre art. Heck, I recall at least a couple weren’t even true crime novels but more along the lines of castoff Hellblazer stories.

Peter Milligan, though, he’s usually worth a read, and James Romberger’s online persona has always revealed him to be an individual of taste and intelligence, so one would hope that when he chose to draw something again it was going to be noteworthy. As it is, The Bronx Kill is certainly one of the better of the Vertigo Crime books, but that’s not saying a lot.

The story follows Martin Keane, a writer suffering a block after a successful debut novel. His ex-cop dad is an insensitive asshole, so we want to like Martin, but going off to Ireland to research a book and leaving his wife alone for months doesn’t inspire sympathy, or at least it doesn’t as presented here, because it’s unclear just what is pulling Martin to Ireland. Soon after returning, his wife, who had become fascinated with the stretch of land known as the Bronx Kill in New York, ends up dead there, making Martin a suspect. Martin’s guilt isn’t really presented as a possibility; Milligan has other fish to fry, tying the murder and the Bronx Kill landscape together, along with the prose pieces of Martin’s Irish novel in progress, in a story about history and sins of fathers being visited on sons and on down. 

Romberger does an admirable job of storytelling, as is the case with most of the Vertigo Crime artists. When I used “mediocre” above, what I really mean is that while some, like Romberger, have a more effective style than others, in no case does any of them really let loose with a page of breathtaking beauty or invention. They are subordinate to the scripts, Romberger more than most and with some excuse, because of the prose sections of the book breaking up the flow. It ends up a rather compromised project that probably would have worked better as a prose novel, opened up with more twists, more background and greater attention to the novel-within-the-novel. At 180 pages of comics, Milligan gives short shrift to some promising ideas, and also short changes the character of Martin, as well as giving the story a shock ending that’s more sour than surprising. 

–Christopher Allen