Note: Neither of the images I used for this entry are the actual covers for the books involved. They just give you an idea of how cool and creative these books are
Writer: Jonathan Ross
Artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
When I first heard Jonathan Ross’s name it was via the Ricky Gervais comedy “Extras”. He seemed like a funny guy but I had no idea just how cool he would be. I later discovered that the UK television host [For those of you who don't know Ross, Mark Millar described him as a combination of David Letterman, Howard Stern, and Siskel & Ebert] was a huge fan of many of the things I love: punk rock, genre films, and especially comic books. Ross is a huge comic book fan so I wasn’t surprised to learn last year from artist Tommy Lee Edwards that he was working on a comic series with Ross.
The premise of “Turf” is a wildly creative one. It takes place during prohibition in New York City. The gangs are in the middle of a violent turf war. Then suddenly a clan of Eastern European vampires moves in and starts taking out the gangs one by one. A tide of supernatural darkness is about to descend on the Big Apple, when suddenly an alien spacecraft filled with bizarre weaponry crash lands on Earth . ..
In issue #1 of “Turf” it was clear that Ross wasn’t just reading comics for enjoyment all these years. He was studying the storytelling techniques of many of the best creators. He expertly introduces readers to a strange but familiar 1920s New York with a great mix of dialogue and well set up visuals. The cast of characters is also very compelling. In the issue you meet a society reporter who dreams of becoming a crime reporter, a scheming vampire who dreams of wiping out humanity and awakening “The Old One”, and Eddie Falco a mobster who dreams of a life that doesn’t involve killing or crime.
Tommy Leed Edwards’s visuals for Turf are amazing. The artist has done beautiful work on crime, horror, and science fiction stories. Here he weaves all of those pulpy elements together expertly. The expressions of the characters and the action scenes all have a genuine and dynamic feel to them. Edwards also colors his work with a vibrant and tonally appropriate pallet
Probably the best thing about Turf though, besides it’s wild and intriguing premise is it’s length. Turf is not one of those comics you’ll put down in a few minutes. Ross and Edwards visuals and dialogue work together to give you something substantial; something that will take you a little longer to read, but every moment is an enjoyable one. In today’s comic market that’s a rare feat
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Dustin Weaver
I don’t know why I’m always caught off guard by how awesome Jonathan Hickman’s writing can be. I was introduced to his work when I read his mini-series “The Nightly news”, which turned out to be one of the best comic series I’ve ever read (and I’ve been reading them since 1984). His work on “Fantastic Four” and “Secret Warriors” from Marvel have been great too. With “Shield” though it looks like Hickman has another grand slam home run.
Shield #1 one opens in the 1950s. There a young boy named Leonid is picked up by two agents of a mysterious organization. He’s taken to ancient but high tech, bustling metropolis secretly located beneath the streets of Rome. There he meets the head of a secret society that has existed for thousands of years. The head then tells the boy the society’s history and the secret history of the Marvel Universe.
It turns out that the two men who brought the boy to Rome? They’re Howard Stark and Nathanial Richards the fathers of Iron Man and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. The organization they work for was born in Ancient Egypt when a group of soliders had to come together to repulse an alien invasion. Later we see that the organization continued to save the world from strange and otherworldy threats. It’s members included people like Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci. In the final bit of the issue we are transported back to the 1950s when the young boy’s father, a mysterious costume clad man named the Night machine, comes to take him away from the organization and burn it to the ground.
This is all in the course of the first issue too! Hickman weaves in enough mystery and cool creative elements to make you want to keep coming back to the series again and again. The characters are also incredibly compelling. You only get a few pages with Leonid and his father, the Night Machine, but they are rendered with such emotion and intrigue that you want to know more about these characters.
Dustin Weaver’s art on Shield is incredible. In one issue he has to render about five different and distinct eras in history and he does so expertly. He also does a great job conveying the emotions his characters are feeling. Complimenting Weaver’s already stellar art is the work of colorist Christina Strain. Her colors add a powerful enhancement to the mood and tone of the book.
Soon me and my fellow CBR writers will be submitting our lists for the best comic books of the year. Both of the titles I feature this week will be part of my list. They were great issues of two of the best books being published
“Invincible Iron Man” #21
Artist: Salvador Larroca
Tony Stark AKA Iron Man isn’t one of my favorite Marvel Comics’ characters but he’s certainly one of their most fascinating. He’s a brilliant but fallible man. He struggles to use his intellect to make his world a better place and he often doesn’t make the best decisions.
In Fraction’s recently completed epic 12 part “World’s Most Wanted” he had Tony Stark go on a journey to try and atone for some of those mistakes. He atoned by going on the run to protects the secrets of the world’s superheroes from a powerful mad man. Tony succeeded in protecting those secrets, but it cost him his mind.
You didn’t think that was it though, did you? He’s Tony Stark! Of course he has a back-up plan! In this issue, part two of “Stark Disassembled” Tony’s friends gather to try and implement that plan and get Tony Stark back on his feet.
The elements of Tony’s plan are wild and crazy and that’s part of the fun of the issue. Another is the gathering of heroes that assemble to try and bring Tony back. Tony Stark hasn’t been popular with many other superheros as of late, so it was good to see them put their feelings aside to try and revive Stark. The scene where Pepper Potts greets Captain America and James Rhodes is especially fun
Fraction also uses Pepper Potts to create a particularly poignant scene where Potts gets her complicated feelings out about what happened to Tony Stark and how it’s unfair that people are willing to sacrifice everything to bring Tony back, while her husband is still dead.
Salvador Larroca’s pencils are particularly stellar in this issue. He expertly captures all the emotions everybody is going through. He also manage to give Captain America an amazing entrance, one that captures the hopeful quality of the character
“The Unwritten” #8
Artist: Peter Gross
I’ll just come right out and say it, “The Unwritten” is the best book of 2009. I love Mike Carey’s writing and I was especially fond of “Lucifer”, his previous Vertigo collaboration with Peter Gross, and as good as that was it seems like a warm up for what they’re doing here with “The Unwritten”
“The Unwritten” is a story about stories. It tells the tale of Tom Taylor a young man who shares a moniker with the star of a top selling Harry Potter style series of kids books written by his father, Wilson Taylor. Wilson disappeared and Tom began making a living off his name. That all came crashing down when revelations about Tom’s past (It seems like he lacks one) started to come to light. He then became a target of a mysterious conspiracy out to control the world’s storytellers. The conspiracy framed him for murder and now Tom is trapped in a jail on the Paris-Spain border. Hope is not lost though. It appears that Wilson Taylor may have been grooming his son as a weapon to use against the conspiracy and that grooming may have given Tom the power to bring fictional characters to life.
“The Unwritten” #8 continues the story of Tom Taylor’s imprisonment but you see things through different eyes: those of the Prison Warden, his wife, and his two kids–who are both huge fans of the Tommy Taylor series of books. The issue powerfully examines what stories mean for children. The Warden’s kids are almost pathalogical in their devotion to Tommy, but it doesn’t come off as creepy or scary. It’s a little unsettling but to Carey and Gross’s credits you understand these kids and you sympathize with them. That fact makes the book’s cliffhanger particularly powerful and shocking.
People who aren’t used to Gross’s style may dismiss it as too cartoony, but once you read one of his book’s those thoughts disappear. He captures the emotions, mood and tone of every scene perfectly. The pages literally come alive and flow while you read his work. And like Stuart Immonen, Gross can change and adapt his style to suit almost any story perfectly.
So if you aren’t reading “The Unwritten” do yourself a favor and start! It’s a fun and fascinating series that gets better with every issue. The first collected edition comes out in January.
It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these pieces so pardon me if I’m a little rusty. This week because of the Thanksgiving holiday comics came out one day later than they normally did. I had a short stack of books this week , so there’s only one featured book
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Brian Michael Bendis knows how to write an entertaining Marvel Comic. He’s been doing that for a little over 10 years now. His books may not always make it into the reads of the week and that’s because the bar is set pretty high for him. I expect huge things from Bendis and he always delivers. So when he does something truly great it’s a guaranteed read of the week, and “Dark Avengers Annual” #1 is truly great.
The book picks up on where young Kree soldier turned superhero turned renegade Noh-Varr has been since he split from the Dark Avengers. Varr AKA Marvel Boy quit the team after discovering that the Dark Avengers and his boss Norman Osborn were all criminals and psychopaths. So he fled underground and has been looking for a way to reconnect with humans, his Kree heritage, and the legacy of another Kree hero Captain Marvel.
The story is told from Noh-Varr’s perspective and Bendis manages to make that perspective both alien and identifiable. You’re rooting for Noh-Varr to figure out exactly how he fits into the Marvel Universe and when he does find a new purpose at the end of the issue, the revelation is incredibly satisfying.
Bendis also does a nice job with the supporting cast in the tale. Noh-Varr meets a college student named Annie and she’s very charismatic. Her encounter with Noh-Varr changes her and it’s great to watch. Bendis also works in a great scene with Noh-Varr and the Sentry, one that illuminates both their characters in interesting ways.
Said scenes with the Sentry are also fun because their part of a knock down drag out fight between the two characters. It’s an exciting battle and it’s not a one way fight either. Both characters get some good licks in.
Artist Chris Bachalo also played a huge role in making the fight scenes in “Dark Avengers Annual” #1 so interesting. His pencils are very dynamic when it comes to action, but it’s not just the action that Bachalo makes look good. He does a great job with the characters as well. Part of the reason the scenes between Annie and Noh-Varr are so compelling is because Bachalo draws them in an expressive way.
Another Wednesday has come and gone, which means I’ve read a stack of new comics. Every week I try to pay homage to one or two books that stick out from the stack as being the best or my favorite. Because of my CBR job and limited budget many of the books I read are Marvel books and this weeks’ Reads of the Weeks are both Marvel books
Honorable mentions: “X-Men Vs. Agents of Atlas #2, “”Ghost Rider: Heaven’s on Fire #4, “Deadpool Team-up” #899
READS OF THE WEEK
“Assault on New Olympus Prologue
Writers: Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak
Artist: Rodney Buchemi
If you would have said to me 10 years ago that one of my favorite Marvel books would star Hercules I’d say you were crazy. These days though “Incredible Hercules” is one of the best and most enjoyable titles Marvel comics puts out. Pak and Van Lente have elevated the title character from the drunken idiot that so many writers were fond of portraying him as. He’s a fairly smart and charismatic character and he’s easily the most human and identifiable of any of the mythological characters appearing in comics. That’s because Hercules is a screw up who acts rashly. His emotions get him to trouble but his heart’s in the right place and he keeps trying to be a hero
The other strength of Incredible Hercules is that it’s a buddy book featuring Herc’s partner, the teenage super genius Amadeus Cho. Cho is a sarcastic super smart kid but like Herc he’s got a penchant for acting with his emotions.
Pak and Van Lente load Herc and Amadeus’s adventures with action, humor, and heart. It’s a series that will make you chuckle, cheer, and put a lump in your throat. That continues with “Assault on New Olympus”, a special prologue issue that sets up the titular storyline that kicks off in the next issue of “Incredible Hercules”. In the “Assault” prologue Pak and Van Lente set the stage for an epic confrontation with Herc’s power mad step mother, Hera who’s recently gained control of the Olympian pantheon of Gods. Herc gathers his allies in the New Avengers and a misunderstanding leads to an awesome and hilarious battle between Herc and Spider-Man. That misunderstanding also leads to a dramatic, heartfelt and moving reunion between Herc and his estranged wife, the goddess Hebe.
Rodney Buchemi’s art is also really good and quite nice looking. His character expressions are great and his action scenes dynamic. The splash page of Herc and Hebe rediscovering their love for each other is breath taking
In addition to a fantastic main story, “The Assault on New Olympus” features a back-up story by the stars of another one of Marvel’s most entertaining reads “Agents of Atlas”. Jeff Parker’s story is short but it’s epic. The agents face their most powerful foe yet, a god. And Gabriel Hardman’s art is amazing as usual. The god that the Agents face is horrific and awe-inspiring.
“Captain America Reborn” #4
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
I’m a huge Captain America fan. He’s a great combination of two classic comic archetypes: the every man and the extraordinary man. He represents the best our country can be. He’s a pretty inspiring and fun character. So it was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to Cap AKA Steve Rogers when writer Ed Brubaker killed him off in “Captain America” #25. Brubaker did a great job building up Rogers’s replacement though. Bucky Barnes, Rogers’s former partner has been just as interesting and compelling as Cap as Rogers was.
So when it was announced that Steve had not actually died and was coming back in the mini-series “Captain America: Reborn” I was unsure. I’ve grown to really like Bucky. Here we are now though with issue #4 of “Reborn” and I can now say I’m happy to have Steve back. I’ve missed his unique perspective on the Marvel Universe. So I’m hoping when the series is over that there’s room for both Steve and Bucky in the Marvel U.
In “Reborn” #4 lots of dramatic things happen and they happen on a huge scale. The action sequences and fast pace make for an exciting read. You also really start to feel for Steve Rogers, who has become unstuck in time and is being forced to relive moments from his past over and over again. And The villains of the story: The Red Skull, Doctor Doom, Crossbones, and the Skull’s Daughter Sin make their presence felt in a big way. The issue’s cliff hanger is going to make the wait for “Reborn” #5 a long one.
Brian Hitch’s illustrations and Butch Guice’s inking is fantastic. They help give the story this huge sense of scope and scale. Their villains are sinister and regal and their action scenes are dynamic and powerful. There’s a scene where Bucky Barners, The Black Widow, and the Avenger Ronin assault an enemy troop transport in search of a friend that’s just plain cool. And the splash page of Baron Zemo in the rain with a machine gun is both awesome and ominous. The last page is telegraphed by the one before it but Hitch and Guice still manage to make it a holy crap moment.
Every week I read a lot of comics; some to stay informed for my job at CBR (so many of the books I mention here will be Marvel ones), some for pleasure, and some for both. Usually what happens is there will be some average reads, some good reads, and possibly even a bad read or two. Generally though there’s at least one or two books that stand out as being the best of the bunch. So to celebrate and pay tributes to those books I’m kicking off what I hope will be a weekly feature, Reads of the week.
Unfortunately I’m kicking off this feature during a week that saw a lot of good stuff come out. So deciding on just one or two books will be difficult but here goes:
Honorable Mentions: “Fantastic Four” #572, “Secret Warriors” #9, “Necrosha X”, “Incredible Hercules” #137
READS OF THE WEEK:
“Dark Reign: The List-Punisher”
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: John RomitaJr,
I’ve been a fan of the Punisher since I was about 10-11 years old. I’ve read every series the character has starred in. The MAX and Marvel Knights versions of the character are incredibly compelling, but I also think the Punisher of the Marvel Universe is pretty damn interesting too. And I have yet to read a better Marvel Universe take on the Punisher than the current series.
Rick Remender gets that what makes the Punisher interesting and unique in a world of superheroes and supervillains is his background as a soldier. He kicked off the series not by having the Punisher fight super crime but by having him go to war with it. And to make things even more interesting he armed the Punisher with some of the most fantastic and dangerous devices in the Marvel Universe.
Going to war against super crime meant trying to topple Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign. And in “TheList-Punisher” Remender brings Frank’s year-long crusade against Osborn to its logical conclusion. “The List-Punisher” is a brutal, violent, exciting, powerful, and even poignant story about standing tall in the face of impossible odds. I won’t spoil the story by saying how it ends but readers of the special did get a hint about where Remender is taking the series and it looks quite interesting
And if the story wasn’t enough “The List-Punisher” featured the art work of John Romita Jr (whose depiction of the Punisher is second only to Mike Zeck). Plus for my money nobody draws New York better than John Romita jr. The end rooftop fight scene of “The List-Punisher” has to be seen to be believed
Die Hard Year One #2
Writer: Howard Chaykin
Artist: Stephen Thompson
I’m a huge fan of the first “Die Hard” movie. I think it’s one of the greatest action movies of all time. I enjoy the later installments in the series as well but not as much. They’re fun, but none of them hold a candle to the original and as the series progressed it got more and more cartoony. So the present-day adventures of John McClane aren’t as interesting to me as the past.
That’s why I got very excited when I heard about Boom! Studios ongoing “Die Hard: Year One” series, which takes you back to 1976, John McClane’s first year as a New York City cop. And to make things even better Howard Chaykin was writing it. Chaykin knows how to write crime and action incredibly well. I’d read a cop book set on the mean streets of NYC circa 1976 by Chayking even if it didn’t star John McClane.
So I had high hopes for the first issue of the series and was a little bit disappointed. The first issue was all about introducing readers to a young John McClane and an eclectic cast of characters that will become embroiled in his first adventure, which is happening on America’s bicentennial July 4th, 1976. With the second issue though the pace picks up and you start to see where Chaykin is going with this first story. Lots of threads develop and come together and it’s hinted that the arc might climax with explosive action set piece on the crowded yacht of the third richest man in the world. This issue had quite a bit of set up but it did what the best comics do, make me eagerly anticipate the next issue
Stephen Thompson also did nice job with the art. I see hints of Michael Lark in his work, and Lark is one of my favorite artists.