Posts tagged “Duane Swierczynski

Turkey Day Reviews

Captain America #4Captain America #4
Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Steve McNiven
Publisher:  Marvel Comics
Price:  $3.99

 

Awwww, Marvel.  Why?

I started picking up this series because I adore Steve Rogers as a character, and I’d heard such great things about Brubaker’s writing of Cap.  When I read that McNiven was doing the pencils, I jumped all over this like the obsessor that I am.  I looooooooovvvvveee McNiven’s stuff, and to me, him and Cap are a match made in heaven.  This book made me so happy.

I speak in the past tense, because apparently McNiven is no longer on this title as of issue #7.  His replacement?  Alan Davis.

I don’t know if this is a permanent change or if Davis is filling in for a couple of arcs; the solicitations aren’t clear, and the switch doesn’t appear to be addressed in detail anywhere.  I couldn’t give less of a fig for Alan Davis.  I have nothing against him personally and I’m sure he’s a gentleman; it’s just that his art does absolutely nothing for me.  At ALL.  I simply dislike his style, and that’s really gonna kill this book for me.  It’s a shame, because I’ve really enjoyed the four issues to date.

Don’t be fooled by the odd cover (Marvel seems especially preoccupied with phallic concepts lately); what lies beneath the title page here is good stuff.  Brubaker pairs together past and future in a seamless and engaging way, introducing old characters and new to propel the story forward and keep the engine humming.  What makes me particularly happy with Brubaker is his track record in writing female characters—basically, he knows how to.  You might laugh at that, but let’s take a look at his record—Selina Kyle, Black Widow, now Sharon Carter—it is, sadly, shockingly rare to write a string like that without some blunders along the way, but the man does it seemingly effortlessly.  Yes, I’m in love with his Cap, but watching Sharon Carter spar with Baron Zemo and lay an eloquent dropkick on the guy is, let’s face it, pretty damn awesome.  And having McNiven illustrate that wonderfully-constructed scene?  Icing on the ass-kicking cake, my friends.

I’m not sure how long I’m going to stick around once Alan Davis comes aboard this book.  A part of me wants to drop it out of principle alone; it feels like Marvel can never get their act together as far as keeping creative teams on titles for any longer than a story arc at a time, and that’s bothersome.  Things shouldn’t be that difficult, and as a consumer, I’m looking for consistency.  There are some exceptions—no matter how late Avengers: Children’s Crusade is, I will always buy it, and no matter how many artists come and go on Journey into Mystery, Kieron Gillen will always have my dollar—but this should remain the exception and not the rule.  I wouldn’t want to be accused of enabling.

We’ll see where Cap lands in a couple of months’ time.  Maybe Davis will be off before I know it, replaced with someone else’s work to lure me in against my will, but in order for me to continue buying Captain America at four bucks a pop, I’m gonna need both pieces and I demand better.

 

Birds of Prey #3Birds of Prey #3
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Illustrated by Jesus Saiz
Publisher:  DC Comics
Price:  $2.99

 

Oohhh … ouch.  My pride.  God. I’m so ashamed and my pride is so sore, because … because … I am LOVING THIS BOOK!
 
There—I said it.  And I KNOW what you’re thinking … and I’m so ashamed.  *Hangs head to the floor*

I just … it’s … it’s actually really good.  I read the first issue and I was all begrudging about it, and then I read the second issue and I was like oh … uh oh … maybe this could go somewhere, but NO!  I’M NEVER GONNA ADMIT IT!  And then I read the third issue and … and … oh, Swierczynski’s won me over completely and now I’m scum.  *Sobbing*

What convinced me to keep reading were the rumors that Barbara Gordon would wind up on the team.  If you read my bitter condemnation review of issue one, a huge reason why I decried this book was because the relationship between Dinah and Babs was seemingly being downplayed/ignored/retconned.  But then I kept hearing such positive reviews of the title from critics whose opinions I respect, and all might not be as it seems within the next few issues.  So I read #2 and #3, and … here I am, eating my words.  Mr. Swierczynski, I owe you apology.  Your book just kicked me in the face, and it feels so good.

And wow, Jesus Saiz … I can’t compliment him enough.  His artwork is so skilled and GORGEOUS.  It’s so wonderful and clear and … you know, there’s a scene in this issue with an explosion and Black Canary, Starling, Katana, and Poison Ivy are flung through the air from the force of it.  And—can you believe—not a single contorted spine, not a single sleazy upskirt or shot of cleavage, not a single broken back.  I … I didn’t know comics like this could actually exist!  I LOVE YOU, JESUS SAIZ!  Never, ever change!

So I humbly retract my earlier assessment of this title.  It’s not quite the Birds of Prey I once knew and hoped for; it’s not the team I fell in love with.  But I’m having an easier time now taking THIS team of Birds for what they are, and it’s legitimately good, enjoyable, and fun to read.  With each issue, I’m learning to drop my preconceived notions and favoritism.  No lie, it’s been tough.  I’m all set in my comics ways and stuff, you know?  But for at least the next few issues, I’m on board with this book.  Please, please don’t let me down, Swierczynski.

 

Supergirl #3Supergirl #3
Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Illustrated by Mahmud Asrar
Publisher:  DC Comics
Price:  $2.99

 

Hello, Supergirl—it’s nice to finally meet you.

The Super family of books have always been tough sales for me.  I was never one for Superman; he’s always felt flat to me, and I’d mostly steered clear of his side of the comics racks until last year when I started picking up Jeff Lemire’s Superboy (which I miss desperately).  But Powergirl has never lured me, and Supergirl’s (re-)introduction in the Superman/Batman book a few years ago flew right over my head.  For whatever reason, I just never cared enough to give Kara much of a chance.  With the New 52, I decided I’d change that.

So I picked up the first two issues of this title, and for the most part, I really enjoyed them.  A large reason for that is in thanks to the artwork—Mahmud Asrar is, if I may say, pretty incredible.  I don’t think I’ve seen any of his work prior to this, but his soft, watercolory style is a pleasure that leaves my eyes wanting more at the end of every issue.  It’s fluid and beautiful, and I can’t get enough.

Story-wise, this book is conflicting.  On the one hand, I want to say that I’ve enjoyed each read in the moment I’m reading it; on the other hand, I take a step back to think about it and the three issues to date have been extraordinarily decompressed.  I feel like “decompressed” is a word everyone likes to toss around in the comics world these days, so I generally try to avoid it, but it’s very true here.  The first two issues of this title were about Kara crash landing to Earth, being confused, and fighting Superman.  TWO ENTIRE ISSUES of that!  Don’t you think that could have all been accomplished in just one issue?  How many times must we witness Kal and Kara fight and try to “figure things out”?  This aspect of the book—the redundancy and stretching out the story for no reason—bothers me.  If I were a diehard Supergirl fan, I’d be extremely annoyed, because what’s happening to Kara mirrors what’s happening to Barbara over in Batgirl—which is more of the same.  A seemingly unoriginal take.

Despite these criticisms, though, this title is still okay with me overall.  I’m still reading.  Why?  Because I am a new reader of Supergirl, and although I know this story has happened before, I’ve never previously read it myself.  As an experience, it’s still new to me.  I’m finally getting to know a version of Supergirl, and it’s admittedly kind of exciting.  I really want to like her.

So issue three opens up with some backstory regarding Krypton, and we’re finally introduced to a villain for Kara to face on Earth.  I want to say this villain is a bit generic, but Green and Johnson have already managed to make me hate his guts in the span of one issue, so I guess that’s successful.  While we sputter a bit here thanks to that D-word, I’m cautiously optimistic that things will pick up after the first arc.  Green and Johnson always come across well in interviews, expressing enthusiasm for Kara and it sounds like they have some great ideas for this title.  It’s their chance to make her shine, and it’s my chance to let them.  I want to like this—I am liking this, mostly—and I’m hopeful that it only goes upward from here.

 

Until next week, everyone—be safe, and eat lots of turkey!

Happy Thanksgiving

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More of the New 52

I’m having a rough go of this DC stuff, guys.  A real rough go.  If I had to pick one book this week to tell you to avoid like the frigging plague, it would be Teen Titans.  Don’t do it to yourself, readers.  You deserve better.

Aquaman #1Aquaman #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Illustrated by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado
Price:  $2.99

 

While That’s E is my LCS, occasional place of employment, and all-around hub of awesome, working in Boston can make it difficult to swing by store hours during the week to pick up comics.  That activity is typically reserved for the weekend when Boyfriend and I—now Fiancé, hip hip!—have the time to chat with our friends behind the counter, praise the latest works we’ve enjoyed, or talk smack about that week’s failures (at which point hilarity and raucous laughter ensue).  But when Wednesday rolls around and the excitement of new comics fills the air, it can prove hard to wait those extra few days.  That’s when I usually wander around Harvard Square during my lunch hour and inhabit Million Year Picnic, a quirky little hole-in-the-wall shop with cozy shelves and some super nice people running the register who clearly know their comics.  And when I went in there this week, the item I immediately grabbed for a quick read-through was Aquaman #1.

Laugh at me all you want, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Aquaman.  His was the first comic I’d ever read when I was a kid, secretly borrowing my brothers’ comics to read whenever they were out of the house.  I can get into the myriad reasons why I love Aquaman and will defend him ‘til the end, but that’s a topic for another post (which I’ve been working on for like six months and might never see the light of review day).  When DC announced this title, I was actually excited.  Aquaman!  What!?  And not belligerent old hook-hand Aquaman either—no!  This was the young, sexy blonde Aquaman that had made my tiny toddler heart skip a beat (he was so pretty!).  As I flipped through the pages gawking at the beautiful artwork and reading the story, I knew immediately that this would be one of few keepers for the New 52.

Geoff Johns loves Aquaman.  He’s proclaimed as much time and again during interviews, but you don’t need to hear him say that in order to get it.  Reading Aquaman #1 felt very much like Johns’ love letter to Aquaman.  He cares about this character, and we see that from page one.  The entire issue is devoted to building up Aquaman—first with a display of brute strength in the opening pages, followed by a glance at his reputation and insight to what’s in his heart, ultimately ending with a declaration of intent.  And in between it all, it is funny as heck.  I’m not sure a New 52 book has given me as much enjoyment yet as Aquaman did.  I loved this, and if Geoff and Ivan Reis (whose art was ridiculously great) can keep the momentum, I’ll be hooked for the long run.

Uh, no pun intended.

Batwoman #1Batwoman #1
Written by J.H. Williams & Haden Blackman
Illustrated by J.H. Williams
Price:  $2.99

 

I hate it when this happens.  You hear so much hype about a book—it’s built up and talked about everywhere and every review you read is like “THIS IS AMAZING!” and you think, oh my, I can’t wait to be hit with the awesome.  Then you get the book and … the balloon has popped.  To smithereens.  You’re deflated and your pieces are scattered everywhere, and you don’t feel like picking yourself back up.

That’s kind of how I felt after reading this issue.  Despite how gorgeous it was for the eyes—as though anyone would expect any less from J.H. Williams on that—it left me deflated.  Yet, I’m not really sure what my expectations were.  Story-wise, I had none.  I’m not a huge Kate Kane follower, but I liked her enough to sample this.  The only thing I left the issue with, though, was a sizeable dose of confusion.  I haven’t read Greg Rucka’s acclaimed run on Detective—the only Batwoman I’d read was the “zero” issue that came out last year or so—and as such, I had no frame of reference for a lot of what was happening in this book.  Whatever happened to “new reader-friendly”?

Could I follow along with this?  Yes.  I could piece together most of what I think I needed to know by the end of the issue.  But was it easy, or even rewarding?  Not really … I didn’t leave it feeling as such.  I’d like to blame that on the fact that J.H Williams, like many on the New 52, is artist-turned-writer.  That’s not an easy transition to make.  I’d also suggest that this title was never actually meant to be part of the New 52—it wasn’t written to entice new readership or be part of this comics-holy endeavor.  It was just a title that kept getting delayed and kept getting delayed and eventually found its way to being a part of this.  I think it’s done some harm.

I’m going to read issue two.  I’ll likely stick out the entire first arc, because I think whatever nitpicks I have with this can certainly be overcome.  I will say that the opening scenes in particular were incredible, and I’m looking for more of that to come.  Overall, the book just didn’t hit me the way I was expecting, and so much of that I’m sure has to do with the internet hype.  Drowning it out for next month.

Birds of Prey #1Birds of Prey #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Illustrated by Jesus Saiz
Price:  $2.99

 

Ugh.  I really … I didn’t want to do this.  I staunchly and adamantly shot down this book before it came out; very loudly voiced my hatred at the concept of a new Birds of Prey without Oracle or Huntress or Gail Simone behind the board.  I was NOT going to give this a shot.  But in a week where Catwoman and Starfire were degraded and exploited beyond all comprehension … suddenly, a female team book felt more alluring.  And really, let’s face it—I’m a masochist.  Comics fans in general are absolutely masochists.  We know it’s going to be bad—we know it’s going to hurt, but damn it, we just can’t look away.  We just can’t stop.

So I picked this up.  And … it broke my heart.

First of all, let me get this off my chest:  Dinah’s outfit is absolutely dumb.  Dumbest thing ever.  I will say that I’ve never minded the fishnets in her previous getup—I thought her outfit was fine, and no, I didn’t think she looked like a hooker.  I thought she looked like a badass biker chick, though much of fandom had complained that the fishnets were tacky.  DC’s answer to that, apparently, was to re-tool her costume and add even MORE fishnets?  Up her ARMS, no less?  What the hell, guys.  This is the stuff that makes me want to cuss my head off.  (I’m trying to tone it down—it isn’t easy.)  It’s just the most senseless outfit of all the redesigns, and that’s saying a lot considering there is some genuinely BAD stuff out there.  My eyes … they bleed.

Okay.  Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about this book.  The Birds of Prey, to me, has always been about friendship.  Well, it’s about girls kicking ass too, but mostly, it’s friendship.  The unfailing, strong-in-the-face-of-all-danger, love-you-no-matter-how-many-times-you-screw-up friendship between Dinah and Barbara.  Then Huntress eventually came along and stirred the pot, and the book became even more amazing because the relationships built between the three women was not something that was found in any other DC book, or any other comic book period.  Add Zinda Blake to the mix, and things still kept getting stronger.  Four ladies, four unshakeable ties.  A family.  That was the Birds of Prey.  And I came back for it month after month after month, because it felt like these were my girls.  You find things you relate to and after so many years of a book like this, you build these immensely personal ties and attachment to it.  Not having the Birds anymore—my Birds—is heartwrenching.

This?  If they had called Duane Swierczynski’s version anything else—anything at all other than “Birds of Prey,” I might have actually been able to swallow this.  But I can’t.  I keep looking at this book hoping that it’s what it was—what I want it to be, but it’s not, and I’m not MEANT to look at it that way.  We’re supposed to look at it as something new.  It’s its own thing.  DC is asking us not to compare it to what came before.  But that’s really unfair, and it’s just not something I can do.  DC built this attachment of mine; they gave me a security blanket that I loved and loved, and they can’t expect me to throw it away for some new toy.

I’m genuinely sorry about it, too, because the artwork on this was flawless.  One issue and I am already a huge Jesus Saiz fan.  And as much as I wasn’t crazy about Swierczynski coming on board, I have to give credit where credit is due—he writes a pretty damn good Black Canary.  Maybe even second best to Gail.  Unfortunately, I won’t be sticking around to see what he can do.  He screwed that up for me the moment he introduced Barbara Gordon in this issue for no apparent reason whatsoever outside of raising a million continuity questions that he doesn’t proceed to answer.  I can’t look at this with the new eyes that it needs.  Maybe some day … but for right now, looks like I’m out.

Wonder Woman #1Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Price:  $2.99

Yeeaaahhh … I have to say, I was really on the fence about this one.  I had no idea what to expect until a few weeks back when I watched this hysterical interview with Brian Azzarello about his run on the book.  He has such utter disdain for the interviewer in it and he’s so frank with his responses that I couldn’t help but be oddly endeared.  Suddenly, any worries I had about the title just kind of fell away.

Despite being turned off by the idea of yet another revamp for Wonder Woman, after over a year of horrible, pedantic, pointless WW issues during the “Odyssey” story arc of Straczynski’s ill-conceived run, I was suddenly DESPERATE for a title re-launch.  Time to kick the lame pants and jacket, adolescent writing, and cheesecake artwork to the curb.  Cliff Chiang on art duties?  GODSEND.  Brian Azzarello writing?  Er … I hadn’t read the guy.  There was a 50/50 chance this could work.

I liked this issue.  It took me two reads, but I liked it.  The first read through was a little rough—Azzarello wasn’t lying when he said he wanted to introduce a “horror” element to Wonder Woman, and at first, it just seemed like a whole bunch of violence and gore.  But on the second read through, the issue took a much better shape, and I caught things I didn’t catch the first time around.  The tone was different, and I actually liked it.  It was hard, but in a good way.  Azzarello re-introduces some of the Greek gods, and for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—they actually come across really cool, powerful, and scary.  When was the last time the gods were actually scary?  They SHOULD be scary.  It’s refreshing to see.  Especially interesting is the fact that this doesn’t feel as “mythological” as it actually is.  You’re not watching the gods walk around in togas and hang out on Olympus the way you did during Greg Rucka’s run (which I loved as well).  It’s not in-your-face ancient mythology.  It’s modern day, and it WORKS.  So much so that I’m surprised.

The story involves a human girl named Zola who has unknowingly gotten herself mixed up in godly affairs—literally—and it’s up to Wonder Woman to protect her from the wrath of who we presume to be Hera and Apollo.  I was very concerned with how Wonder Woman would come across under Azzarello’s pen.  Would she just be a violent Amazonian?  Would she retain any of her compassion?  Would she wear pants?  (Just kidding.)  My favorite renditions of Wonder Woman have always been the loving, empathetic ones—Simone’s and Rucka’s.  An overly violent Wonder Woman goes against the grain of everything the character represents.

That said, she isn’t afraid to kick ass when ass needs kicking.  She isn’t afraid to kill if it’s what must be done (see Maxwell Lord).  And in this issue, Wonder Woman kicks a lot of ass in what is one of the most well-choreographed, beautifully drawn fight scenes I’ve read in ages.  Cliff Chiang kills on this book, illustrating a Wonder Woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, but can also show concern where it’s called for.

Did this completely fire on all cylinders for me?  Not entirely.  I have a few nitpicks, to be sure—for example, this being her own title book, it felt oddly as though Wonder Woman somehow wasn’t in it very much.  I also wasn’t crazy about the use of her lasso in one scene, and I feel like some of the dialogue can be tweaked as we move forward.  But overall, this is a HUGE improvement over the garbage Wonder Woman fans have had to suffer through over the past year.  I am most definitely on board here, and the creative team has set my expectations high.  For the first time in a long time, I can’t wait for the next issue of Wonder Woman.


Marvel’s Widow Maker

I was really looking forward to this a few months ago, and while I’m not entirely let down, I’m not blown away either.  Here’s what’s up.

Marvel created two new titles last year in Black Widow and Hawkeye & Mockingbird, hailed as “ongoings.”  Frankly, I thought both were great, enjoyable reads.  But then Marvel did what they always do, which is to say “Omg, these books aren’t selling to our absurd standards … WE MUST DO SOMETHING TO MESS WITH THEM!”  So Black Widow got a new writer in Duane Swierczynski after merely one story arc, which was a big mistake, as Swierczynski’s script was nowhere near the level of his predecessor’s, Marjorie Liu.  Nor, for that matter, is Manuel Garcia’s art any better than Daniel Acuna’s, who I thought was a perfect fit for the tone of the book.  Hawkeye & Mockingbird, on the other hand,  simply goes on “hiatus” … after this genius crossover concludes, that is.

Yes, here we have Hawkeye & Mockingbird meeting up with Black Widow, and the creative teams on each book are taking turns writing and illustrating each issue.  And therein lies my problem.  While the story as a whole isn’t bad, I have to say outright that the issues seem to go up and down.  Issue one, done by Hawk & Mock’s creative team of Jim McCann and David Lopez was stellar enough as far as setting up the book.  Issue two sunk a little under Swierczynski’s pen, and the artwork was incredibly hard to follow.  Last week’s issue three picked things back up, although I worry about the conclusion.

If you read the solicitation for this story and/or seen the preview images, you should know you’ve been misled.  This book is almost not at all about what they said it would be about.  I mean, take a look at this:

Widow Maker Solicit

What’s going on here?  Mockingbird and Black Widow fighting?  Surely it must be a cat fight over Clint.  Shock!  Well, no—not even close.  In fact, Bobbi and Natasha have gotten along uninterestingly well so far.  There is absolutely no drama in this department—which is fine by me.  There’s a general misconception that you can’t put two women in the same room who have dated the same man without the claws coming out, so it was refreshing to see that NOT happen here.  There’s a reason these two ladies are strong characters, and it has nothing to do with the men in their lives.  But I digress.

The main point of the story is that there is a new character running around using the “Ronin” name and costume, and causing all sorts of problems.  Bent on setting off a war utilizing both Japanese and Russian forces, it’s up to Clint, Bobbi, Natasha, and Dominic Fortune (still the most entertaining piece of this) to set things straight.  That’s the basic gist.  Is it the most inspired piece of work out there right now?  Not really, but it does have things to offer that some other books don’t.  It’s fun, the character dynamics are pretty interesting, and overall it’s just kind of a nice read—but it probably would have been even nicer if Jim McCann was just left to do the work himself.  You should see the stuff that guy’s putting together over at Archaia.

Ultimately, Marvel shoots themselves in the foot yet again, tampering with two recipes that were working just fine for the readers.  I’ll stick through this crossover, because I’m curious as to what happens to the Clint and Bobbi team once it ends.  I’m kind of nostalgic about those two.  I’ll be sad to see Hawk & Mock go; sad that I have to read a subpar Black Widow when it was once so great with Liu behind the helm; and sad that when Marvel comes back in a few months to hype up a different “ongoing,” I’ll probably still fall for the bait.