Ceej Says… Comic Book Day Reviews (31st Oct 2012)

Rolling into the third week of my ‘pull list’ review, and I’d like to take a moment to thank anyone who’s taken the time to actually read the stuff I’ve put up so far.  I’ve had some pretty decent feedback for the first few blogs, and I’m hoping to branch out into some non-comic avenues sooner rather than later.  For the time being though I’m sticking with the pull list, so here’s what’s on the menu this week;

Justice League: Dark Annual #1 (DC)
Swamp Thing Annual #1 (DC)
Justice League: Dark Vol 1 – In The Dark (DC)
The New Deadwardians #8 (Vertigo)
Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Skeletor Oneshot (DC)

And apparently Mark Waid’s Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom didn’t actually make it to the comic wasteland that is Aberdeen this month.  Which sucks.  But I guess that’s what ebay’s for.  Sigh.

So yeah, sticking pretty firmly with the DC-heavy theme of last week, but in a departure from my usual ‘rummaging’ method of selection, I’m going to save the New Deadwardians for last as it has been without a doubt my favourite comic of the month since it came out, and it sucks that this is the final issue.

Also, as Im trying to catch up on the Justice League: Dark comic, I’m going to hold off on reviewing the annual until I’m up to speed.  I’ll definitely plough through the TPB though.

Anyway, up first we haaaave… 

Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Skeletor Oneshot (DC)
“And so this is the death of Keldor.”

I wasn’t really sure about this when I picked it up.  But with how solid the current He-Man miniseries has been, I thought it’d be worth a look.  As it turns out, I was half right.  The story is solid enough, if a little confusing to follow with all the flicking backward and forward between flashbacks and the present day.  In this continuity, we’re going with the fact that Keldor is the older brother of King Randor (or I guess ‘Prince Randor’ back then), but being denied his right to be king by his impure bloodline.

The story followed Keldor reliving his childhood with Randor as he tries to seek out the present-day Randor, for reasons initially unknown.  The story also takes place moments after Keldor receiving his horrific facial injuries, although there’s no explanation for how this happened which is a little frustrating.  The closing scenes when he finds Randor are powerfully written, and contain some fun exchanges for a He-Man fan like myself.

So despite the clumsy, sometimes confusing narrative, this comic would be a pretty good read were it not for the – in my opinion – subpar artwork.  I get the need to differentiate between flashbacks and present day, but the flashbacks look like unfinished scribbles and it throws the whole quality of the comic off.  I appreciate the intention but the constant change in artwork and colouring is fairly jarring, and detracts from the comic in a major way.

So yeah, for a He-Man fan, it’s worth a read, although I’m not sure why they’re bothering with origin stories if the main comic is only scheduled for a six issue run.  That said, the digital download only origin stories have had some real bright spots so far (Cringer/Battle Cat and Evil Lynn in particular), so it’s nice they they’re trying to develop their take on the universe a little more.  So in summary, it’s nice to have a clear back-story for the DC version of Skeletor, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

Rating: 6/10          

Bit of a disappointing start, but as this was something I just picked up out of curiosity, I’m not gonna lose too much sleep over it.  Anyway, up next we have…

Swamp Thing Annual #1 (DC)
“Abby Arcane in the swamp… I can picture it already.”

We’re taking a break from the ongoing ‘Rotworld’ storyline that’s currently running through both the regular Swamp Thing and Animal Man titles, and delving a little into the first meeting between Alec Holland and Anton (but more importantly Abigail) Arcane.  This is one of the instances where I know next to nothing about the pre-“New 52” incarnation of Swamp Thing, so have absolutely no opinion on what little backstory wrinkles they’ve changed, etc.  All I know is what’s happened in the last 13 issues, and it’s safe to say that I’ve absolutely loved what I’ve read to this point.

We get to see the first meeting between uber-baddie Anton Arcane and the would-be Swamp Thing played out rather well, although the bulk of the story is focused on the exchanges and blossoming (no pun intended) relationship between Alec and Abby.  And rightfully so, as their relationship has been the definite highlight of the comic’s run to this point.  The artwork is given a slightly more cartoony appearance this time around, with some thicker lines and more exaggerated expressions, and it works extremely well as we work through the ‘flashback’ story.  The page layouts continue to be amazingly crafted, especially in the opening and closing pages, and the whole thing flows together beautifully.  The first handshake between Alex and Abby is a particular artistic highlight.

In terms of storyline – and again with the disclaimer that pre-“New 52” continuity means precisely zip to me – I think the whole thing worked rather well.  We get to see the heart of Alex and Abby’s relationship, which gives a greater resonance to the things we’ve seen in the comic thus far, and I think this will help spur the upcoming Rotworld issues on rather nicely, especially if the last couple of pages are anything to go by.  It may not quite be essential reading to follow the rest of the Rotworld arc, but there was zero chance I was going to miss a chance to get me some more Snyder goodness.  And with Swamp Thing #14 due out next week, I thankfully won’t have to wait too long for my next hit.

All in all, a great comic, which – to me at least – enhances the ongoing storyline and the current incarnation of Swamp Thing.  Which can’t be bad, now can it?

Rating: 8.5/10.

Good stuff.  Some of the DC annuals so far have been a bit ‘meh’, so it’s nice to see one that justifies the cover price for a change.  Anyway, up next we have my ongoing crusade to catch up with the JL:D continuity, and to refresh my memory, I’m going back to the very beginning with…

Justice League: Dark Vol 1 – In The Dark (DC)
“This so-called team… we don’t actually have to like each other, do we?”

This is another title where my previous knowledge about the characters involved is practically nil.  However, I’d heard nothing but positives about the series so far, and with the Amazing Spiderman taking a trip to the chopping block, I decided to add this one to the pull list.  This TPB covers the first six-issue arc of the comic, which is basically the formation of the ‘team’ as they take on their first real challenge.  For a complete novice when it comes to these characters, this approach served as an extremely useful way to introduce them and all their character traits and flaws to me individually, which in turn gave me a greater understanding of just how messed-up this team really is.

The plot revolves around a powerful witch called the Enchantress who appears – for reasons initially unknown – to have lost her grip on sanity, causing her unleashed hexes and spells to alter the very fabric of reality.  I particularly enjoyed the Justice League cameo which showed the need for a magic-based team, as Supes, Cyborg and Wonder Woman prove completely powerless to do anything about the Enchantress in one particularly memorable scene involving a storm of rotting witch teeth.  Yeah.  Rotting witch teeth.

As far as the team itself goes, their characters are established fairly solidly, with some characters obviously shining a lot more than others (Constantine, Zatanna and Deadman get the majority of the best dialogue throughout, and rightfully so), and as I said, this was a pretty much essential technique to allow people like myself to actually have a clue as to what’s going on.  The trouble with a lot of the earlier ‘New 52’ stuff is that a large amount of time was spent on exposition and back-story, and the actual story arcs suffered as a result.  That’s thankfully not the case with this comic, although this may be diminished by the fact that I actually enjoyed all the exposition and back-story, as it played an important part in the formation of the team.

The artwork is pretty solid throughout, while not quite hitting ‘awesome’ standards.  There’s some great set pieces that are beautifully put together (see the previous rotting witch teeth comment), and everything is polished enough.  Nothing to get all excited about, but definitely nothing to complain about.

All in all, this book is a great ‘getting the group together’ storyline with a somewhat underwritten but still clearly formidable ‘big bad’ to overcome.  It doesn’t quite kick it into high gear, although I’m not sure it ever really intended to.  The dynamic of the team is well estalbished, although – as I said – some characters seem to be far more in the background than others.  That’s always the case with ensemble comics though, and thankfully the right characters get the chance to shine.

If I didn’t already know that the next seven or eight comics were going to be great, I’d definitely feel confident enough to take a chance on this series based on what I read in this book.  And if you haven’t considered taking a look at the somewhat cringe-y named “Justice League Dark”, then I’d like to urge you to reconsider.  It’s a far more interesting ‘capes and cowls’ book than most of the other stuff on the shelves, due in no small part to the interesting characters involved.  So yeah, definitely worth a look.

Rating: 8/10.

Couple of good ones in a row, so let’s go for a big finish with…

The New Deadwardians #8 (Vertigo)

I initially picked up this series because I quite liked the premise.  A post-Victorian tale where zombies are swarming through zones of London and the upper classes turn themselves into vampires as a ‘cure’ against the hordes.  It’s a little more complicated than that, sure, but that was definitely enough of a hook to get me on board.

For the last seven issues, this comic has been an absolute revelation.  It may not have much in the way of action sequences, it may not have many dynamic splash pages or snappy one-liners.  In fact, one of the best issues in the entire run so far mainly involved the lead character having a conversation with a London prostitute about what it means to be (un)dead.  What it has offered though is a compelling story, eye catching artistic style and some of the best dialogue you’re ever going to read in a comic book.

This issue finishes the story and it’s safe to say that Dan Abnett sent it out in style.  It’s perhaps a little disappointing that this isn’t going to become an ongoing feature, but as an eight-issue glimpse into this world and its goings on, you couldn’t really ask for anything more.  The artwork is stellar and, as always, the zombies remain largely in the background, even during the massive riot which is engulfing the city.

I’m not going to go into too many details of the storyline or the finale of Suttle’s investigation, because I’m urging everyone reading this blog right now to either go out and pick up the comics right now or – at the very least – pick up the collected edition whenever it becomes available.  It’s just that good.  I’ve been reading comics for a long time, and this has without a doubt been one of the highlights.  Yes, sometimes the art can be overly simplistic.  Yes, sometimes the head shapes can look a little… off.  But for the plot, the dialogue, and the simply spellbinding storytelling that Abnett delivers, everyone needs to read this.  Now!

Rating: 10/10.

And that’s us for this week.  Apologies for the delay in getting this out, but it truly couldn’t be avoided, and hopefully I’ll be back to some sort of regular timescale for next week.  A week which – at a quick glance – has some good looking stuff lined up, including more Rotworld goodness and the next issue of the awesome Daredevil: End of Days mini-series.  Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you on the other side!

The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson (aka Ceej)
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