Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies ~ Approbation Comics sent me some heroine-related PSDs to have a look at (yup, I'm a big important reviewer now, watch out Siskel or Ebert or whichever of you's still around, I'll have your job in no time), and the first one I read through - which says a lot about my sense of humour - was Chaos Campus. As one of the editorial pages says, it's a simple riff on a couple of themes showing up in pop culture of late, zombies and 'vs' movies - in this case, hot cheesecake-y college girls take on the walking dead who've taken over their campus (and, it seems, the whole world). It's a tongue-in-cheek parody, of course, but it's a good one, literate in the lore (and cliches) of Romero and his ilk, snappy and funny, always ready with more humour and slapstick undead fighting - parodies die (and don't get resurrected) the moment they think they've told enough jokes to last the distance, and Chaos Campus avoids that trap thus far, always offering up something new to chuckle at with every page. Bottom line, it's funny and energetic - everything else you need to know, the subtitle 'sorority girls vs zombies' tells you.
Four issues are available at present (from the online store linked to from Approbation's site), #1-3 of the Chaos Campus Preview Edition, which contains slice-of-life stories of the three heroines, Jamie, Paige and Brittany, battling zombies and exploring the newly undead-infested campus - black and white art, but multiple short stories per issue, so there's plenty of variety - and the Chaos Campus Survival Guide, which for me was the funniest of the lot, as the girls deliver joke-laden lectures to the reader on what's going on, how to deal with zombies, and masturbation (that last one's not regarding zombies, I should hasten to point out) - this one is all colour. The actual Chaos Campus comic proper, starting with Chaos Campus #1, will be out later this year - the Previews mention the possibility of a six-issue series, or three double-length issues, and I'm told the 48-page issues are what we'll get. Having seen the first 24 pages, I can say that it's full colour - quite good art, humorous but with attitude - and takes a more story-driven approach, starting with the original outbreak and showing the girls going from regular college students to zombie fighters, prior to the short stories in the Preview issues. I've been sent a couple of other Approbation titles which I'll be covering in upcoming weeks, but I can tell you - regardless of having the PSDs already - I'll be buying the currently available issues, and will pick up the series when it begins.
Ms. Marvel #24 ~ This issue concludes the arc that began... well, in some ways it's wrapping up threads that were introduced in issue #1, with Cru, and Carol's quest to be the best of the best, and where that's brought her. The battle between Carol and the Brood Queen is fairly satisfying, but I have to admit that side of it seemed to be a little, well, tricksy - it felt like the point of the sequence was just to have everyone fight until Carol uses the method of disposing of the Queen that'll finally work (for now), and until then we were just killing time and the occasional supporting cast member. Then again, you have to hand it to Carol - essentially powerless for a moment, she still hauled off and punched the Queen in the jaw. I don't think she gives herself enough credit for pure gutsiness. Speaking of that, this whole experience - drawing on multiple arcs to this point - leaves her in a pretty miserable place, facing up to her actions and drawing the worst conclusions about herself. With a final teaser showing the future direction for this title, it'll be interesting to see how she crawls out of the hole she's dug herself into mentally.
Annihilation: Conquest #4 ~ With two-thirds of this miniseries done, the heroes are in a typically precarious position, with some new spanners thrown into the works to boot, but everyone's either on Hala or making their way there, so the path to the finale is starting to show. Most everyone gets something to do this issue, but most of it's just moving the plot forward - Phyla and Adam Warlock are the only characters who truly get character time, Phyla grieving after the (apparent) death of Moondragon (I mean, come on, they turned her into a dragon, had the High Evolutionary baffled by her physiology, and then her body disintegrated into energy - of course she'll be back eventually), and Adam trying to help her pull herself together, while dealing with his own problems besides that with a power that seems wildly unstable at best. Phyla's behaviour, the strength of her depression, is a bit surprising, simply because you're used to comic book characters having been through so much in their decades of history - it's interesting to see a character like Phyla, who's very young by comic standards (2004, I think, was her debut), for whom this is literally the first time she's suffered a loss like this. It makes her stand out from the crowd of characters involved in Conquest, as the one most obviously going through a true character arc, rather than just solving a problem through brawn or brainpower.
The Blackbeard Legacy #1 ~ An interesting debut for this title - the basic premise is an all-girl pirate ship, in search of loot (natural for pirates) and chased by the authorities in the form of a sleazy nobleman their captain's ticked off (also par for the course), and all in all that's a recipe for fun. The captain, Hanna Blackbeard, naturally gets the lion's share of development this issue, with stern dealings with her fractious crew, and flashbacks showing other sides to how far she's willing to go to get some tresure - she's a character who could turn out to be quite interesting, but thus far there's not quite enough to say for sure. The art is stylised, cartoony almost, but not without a certain edge that lets it play with the nastier personalities among the pirates and their enemies, and the use of vivid colour gives the whole thing a grand, adventurous feel, with capable use of particular palettes to set the mood in specific scenes. A title worth watching - it's not the next Jack Sparrow just yet, but if it builds on what it's started here, it could turn out to be memorable.
She-Hulk #26 ~ 'The Whole Hero Thing' wraps up with Peter David's customary mix of character drama and ready wit, as She-Hulk takes on both Kodor, the alien bounty hunter, and Cazon, the murderous object of his search. Along the way she faces up to some of her recent actions and attitudes, and also throws around a grizzly bear and loses her pants - something for everyone, really. Since this is the conclusion of an arc I don't want to go into details about the plot, but I'll say this: several reviewers have criticised PAD's She-Hulk for being cynical and jaded (pardon the pun) 'with no good reason', and they just need to a) hold their horses and b) pay attention, as it's clear that the missing three months between the end of Slott's run and now contains the answers, and that they'll be given soon. Shawn Moll is again great on pencils - I think his She-Hulk is damn near perfect, he draws her big and powerful, but in a way that makes her seem Amazonian, rather than just musclebound. Another pleasure is David's dialogue, which sparkles - it's no effort at all to hear the voices, and imagine real people talking the way these characters talk.
Crime Bible: The Five Lessons of Blood #5 ~ This moody crime noir miniseries wraps up with a switch to a classic kung fu kind of vibe, with the Question taking on Flay in a showdown between their fighting skills and how they each interpret what's been going on during Renee's quest to get to the heart of the dark faith. The fight is pretty good, interspersed with clever quips from Renee, very much in keeping with her 52 persona, but it's the climax that really makes the issue. With Rucka apparently a bit unhappy with DC, I'm not sure how much of this miniseries is going to play out in future stories, or in whose hands it will be, but for the moment it's an interesting finale, and plays off what's gone before - both in this series, and back to Gotham Central for Renee. If you like crime fiction and haven't been reading this story, I highly recommend the trade paperback when it comes out.
Wonder Woman #17 ~ It can't be said enough: Gail Simone really understands how to write Wonder Woman. The conclusion to her debut story elegantly weaves the past and present threads together, completing the story of Diana's birth and using it as a springboard for a new story, and there's a very nice surprise concerning one of the supporting cast that gives me great hope for her handling of Diana's personal life, but it's the tone Simone uses for her heroine that's critical. Simone's Wonder Woman is someone you can relate to and understand, but she's also legendary, mythical, a truly larger-than-life figure. It's not often you see a character with those mythological overtones translated into a contemporary setting well - for every Thor (as Straczynski writes him) there's plenty of Herculeses and so on who just seem out of place, shallow shells of the grandeur their real-world selves seemed to have in their own stories. Wonder Woman may not be an ancient invention, but she truly has the feel of one - the say Simone writes her, she could stand alongside Odysseus and Achilles and seem right at home.
Justice Society of America #12 & #13 ~ There's one thing I'm uncertain about - Judomaster is, so far as I can see, the same character who popped up in one of those Birds of Prey trade paperbacks I reviewed just before going on holiday, but there she was fluent in English, and now she can only understand a few words. Not sure what's up there. That aside, this is just great - the large cast gets even larger, but Johns doesn't miss a beat in handling everyone, old and new, with characterful introductions and more development of the ongoing plots like the Heartbreak Slayer and the presence of Superman from Kingdom Come. Speaking of Kingdom Come, it's becoming increasingly clear I'm going to have to read that sometime - this story isn't inaccessible without that knowledge by any means, but I'm in no doubt I'll appreciate it a lot more having done so. And speaking of KC Superman, he gets a really fun scene where Hercules tries to lay a punch on him which is pure classic comics - and could be quite interesting down the track in terms of what it says about his power level compared to the regular Supes. Fernando Pasarin provides pencils for #13, different to Eaglesham's usual style, but not jarringly so, and while I'm still regarding Eaglesham as the go-to guy for JSA, I'd be happy to see Pasarin spell him whenever required. As a side note, Cyclone gets her costumary and inevitable costume error, as her tank top seems to go missing for a panel (the colourist seems to be at fault this time, but it's not really his fault, Cyclone's just jinxed - see The Dissector for more).
Jenna Jameson's Shadow Hunter #1 ~ Everyone's ready to jump all over this and proclaim it name-driven rubbish - well, it's decent. Not excellent, and there's some areas that really need work - the tone of dialogue being one of them - but as a story, Shadow Hunter debuts with an interesting concept and fascinating visuals that are worth coming back next month for more of. As a horror story it's got the interesting quirk that its heroine Jezzerie (odd name, but whatever) takes a hell of a lot in her stride - yes, she's an unusual woman to begin with, having had ethereal visions all her life, but she more or less accepts and deals with monsters suddenly bursting out of the woodwork, and herself turning into a grade-A monster slayer with a sword growing out of her arm, without much fuss. On the one hand, that's a bit jarring - the realistic response would be more shock and disbelief, so it's a bit tough to relate to her on that level - but it does let the story move ahead quite quickly, rather than spending pages just watching Jez freak out to no real purpose. Mukesh Singh's art is a trump card, beautiful and sexy without being cheesecake, alien and frightening where the critters are concerned, and vast in scale. As long as he's illustrating this title it's hands down worth buying - if it rested on story alone, things would be chancey, but we'll see how that goes in future issues.
Atomic Robo #5 ~ More fun as Robo and his team explore a secret base and fight cyborgs. Clevinger's customary pop-culture-savvy dry wit is present as always, but this issue his use of pacing really stands out - there are several panels, even pages, that you'd normally see truncated or removed from a comic to pack in more action and dialogue, but they work effectively to build a mood and a sense of the rhythm of the story. Two whole pages are spent silently exploring the base, and far from being contentless, they function like a montage, slowly drawing you into the feeling of the situation the Action Scientists are in, working their way deeper into the place, with the ever-present possibility of attack. It's really refreshing to see comics done like this, and it offsets the familiar action scenes, and their smart-ass quips, very nicely indeed.
Madame Mirage #5 ~ With it now clear that this isn't a title that establishes a status quo and plays in it a while, but rather moves forward continuously like a movie or novel - a pleasing turn, unusual though it is in comics these days - I'm finding myself much better able to get a handle on the pace of the story, and how exposition is being doled out. This issue there's more action as Mirage takes on yet more A.S.I. supervillains - capably handled, and with a nice sense of timing and strategy to the fighting - and more focus on who and what Mirage really is, and how distinct she is from Harper. The explanation presented for how Mirage seems so autonomous is interesting, but I'm not sure how much mileage there is in that direction - personally I'd wondered if there'd turn out to be a more mundane, darker explanation behind it all, and while nothing is yet ruled out, that doesn't seem to be where the story is going. Roacfort's art is excellent as always, perfect for this story.
Mighty Avengers #9 ~ This is an issue with a lot going on, but there's no getting around the fact that it's middle-of-the-story stuff. We get a bit of alone time with Doctor Doom and Morgan le Fey (with a nifty artist switch to convey the different era) to introduce Doom to anyone who's not familiar with him already, then it's action aplenty as Doom gets home just in time for the Avengers to barrel into Latveria and start tearing up anything between them and him. And there's three no-dialogue double-page spreads in a row - that's a bold decision, and I'm not sure how much it pays off. Certainly there's plenty to enjoy about the spreads when you stop and study them - I particularly like Sentry picking up a giant statue of Doom and belting robots with it - but there's no real storytelling going on in them, no great sense of how the characters' personalities define the shape of the battle. It's just a big-ass brawl, and on first reading I skimmed over it - and later study told me I hadn't missed anything vital to the issue. Luckily the ensuing one-on-one between Doom and Iron Man is more successful, with really neat use of the caption boxes as their suits of armour mirror each other in attack and defence - that sells the notion that this isn't just any old fight, but one to sit up and pay attention to. The issue ends with a twist that could be interesting, but it's up to next issue to pick it up and run with it - still, Mighty Avengers' record is solid thus far, so I'm expecting good things.
Transformers Spotlight: Arcee ~ Finally, the Transformers issue I've been waiting for all along - I vaguely recall hearing that writer Simon Furman had decreed that Arcee wouldn't be making an appearance in his rejuvenation of Transformers comics, but either I was misinformed, or he changed his mind - and just as well. Furman's Arcee is a bold new direction for her - in short, she's a raging psychopath, driven half-mad by the scientist who created her as an experiment in mechanical gender and then discarded her, who she's now searching for in a blood-soaked (or oil, or whatever Transformers have) quest to annihilate him and everything he ever had a hand in creating. It's an interesting and logical take on the very notion of female Transformers, and in this instance results in a compelling character who's part sci-fi, part Tarantino. Being new to this incarnation of Transformers comics, I found the art a bit difficult to decipher - even ignoring the fact that I only recognised half the names of characters, and couldn't tell one from the other by sight anyway aside from the big names like Jetfire and Fortress Maximus, there seems to be an inadequate distinction between foreground figures and the background they exist in - without the distinstion between humans and their environment, the machine people blend into the machine world they inhabit far too easily for clear storytelling. Possibly that's something for the inkers and colourists to work on, but at the moment it's a barrier to what seems to be some quite effective pencilling.
Jungle Girl #4 ~ More cavemen and creature-feature fighting this issue as Jana and her adopted gang continue their journey towards theoretical safety. It's entertaining stuff, in a Saturday morning serial kind of way, with everyone scurrying from one cliffhanger to the next, but - especially with next issue concluding the 'first adventure' according to the news page (whether that means no more issues for a while or what is anyone's guess), I'm left with the feeling that not a lot's really happened. Yes, Jana's fought various beasties and dropped some hints about how she came to be there, and the newcomers had that thing with some of them being drug-runners or whatever, but so far as storytelling goes this hasn't been the most revolutionary ride so far, and it's tough to imaging that changing a great deal in just the next issue. It's by no means as bad as, say, Marvel's recent Shanna: Survival of the Fittest miniseries, but by the same token it's nowhere near as satisfying as Frank Cho's original Shanna miniseries - it's fun, but so far that's about all.
The Order #8 ~ I've said it before (or words to the same effect), I'll say it again: best-written comic Marvel has. Kitson's no slouch on art, he and the rest of the team do great work, but the writing lifts this book above the crowd. It's exciting, surprising, the plot twists are twisty, the characters are real and compelling, there's humour - funny and dark - drama, emotion, all the good stuff. That a comic book like this is being wrapped after ten issues says sad things about where quality stands on the list of what makes a book sell. This issue is the Mulholland focus I've been waiting for from the start, and though she's had her ups and downs - and at times I've wondered if I'd really like her as much as I thought I would once we got her story - she doesn't disappoint, with pitch-perfect dialogue selling a character who, in lesser hands, would have come off as a boring street girl stereotype. Fraction also draws on Marvel history deftly, weaving it into his own story just as adeptly as, for instance, Dan Slott does - the result is a book with its own unique identity, but no question that it's a Marvel title from cover to cover.
Hack/Slash #9 ~ This issue has all the elements of an action-packed thriller, but for some reason I was left feeling a bit detached from it all - and I haven't really been able to nail down why, which I admit isn't much use insofar as reviewing it goes. Aside from Cassie and Vlad (of course), the supporting cast in this issue felt a bit disposable - even the monster, which was fairly visually spectacular, didn't quite hit the mark, and I found myself just idly waiting for it to get taken out, rather than really being invested in the struggle. On the plus side there's some development in the ongoing background story, with Cassie and the shady government types running into each other, a secret (and future plot hook) being dropped in Cassie's lap, and her relationship with Vlad gets some attention in relation to that. It's a good issue all told, but it didn't really go the extra mile for me, and since it's wrapping up the Tub Club storyline, I was expecting something with a bit more oomph.
Justice League of America #18 ~ Like every other reviewer I've seen on this issue, I like the McDuffie backup story about Red Tornado, and found the main story ho-hum. It's serviceable enough, and ties into the Salvation Run event in a cute way, but... this is the Justice League, DC's greatest heroes, surely it should feel bigger and better than this. Mighty Avengers, for its faults, is unfailingly high-stakes action, and as for Justice Society, it just leaves JLA for dead - I just have no sense of the JLA as a group, as an organisation. There are ongoing subplots, like Red Arrow and Hawkgirl's romance, but by and large this feels plot-driven, not character-driven, and so long as the book's main writer is only writing the backup features, I don't really see that changing.
The Clockwork Girl #3 ~ This issue takes advantage of that middle-of-the-storyline time to work in new aspects, most importantly (and endearingly) Tesla's reaction to a world that's totally new to her, and what her perspective does for Huxley. The dialogue between them is at once simple and finely crafted, and shows a real grasp of writing for children and adults alike. The main plotline of the two friends' feuding families is moved forward as well, with the setup for the final issue introducing the necessary conflict and bringing matters to a head nicely. If the conclusion matches up to what's gone before, this will be a very satisfying debut for its creators.