It’s that time again! Here we go with another round of Bullet Reviews! This week touches on the first of the final issues from the old DCU before the reboot launches later this month, also, more Red Wing and a few thoughts on the beginning of Spider-Island!
BATGIRL #24 (DC)
You know you’re in for something good when a Batgirl issue begins with Stephanie Brown confronting the Cluemaster (her father), but I admit I wasn’t quite prepared for what we got. Subverting the audience’s expectation of a knockdown, drag-out finale, Miller instead gives us something more character driven. In a different situation, this would have run the risk of seeming anti-climactic after the previous issue. But sadly, this is the final issue of Bryan Miller’s run on Batgirl. As such, the emphasis on character beats (particularly in the second half of the issue) is not only appropriate but also rather poignant.
Something that Miller particularly emphasizes in this issue is the journey on which he has taken Steph over the past two years. Over the course of twenty-four issues, readers have watched her grow, not only in her role as Batgirl but as a person. But as excellent as this story was, I can’t help but be concerned about the character’s future. While I’m sure she’ll resurface sooner rather than later, the information DC has released about the relaunch and the fact that Barbara Gordon is returning to the cowl leave me worried about the long-term impact of not only this issue, but of the run as a whole.
Though it may be counter-intuitive to recommend a series that just came to an end, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Bottom line, I consider Miller’s Batgirl to have been DC’s equivalent of X-Factor: an often criminally under-appreciated title that nevertheless manages to be among the most consistently entertaining reads on my pull list. And while I may have returned this particular book to its bag with some decidedly mixed feelings, those were the result of circumstance rather than story. Judged on its own merits, Batgirl #24 was, in a word, fantastic. Whatever the future might bring for Stephanie Brown, the fact remains that if you’re looking for a great read, you could do far worse than Batgirl. -Nick Cavicchio
B.P.R.D. HELL ON EARTH: MONSTERS #2 of 2 (Dark Horse)
Exploding the cast of Hellboy into all these different B.P.R.D. books has done a great job of giving a broader scope to Mignola’s vision of secret agents with special abilities fighting Lovecraftian nasties. This two-part series focuses on pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, who has gone to ground in a trailer park. The first issue did a good job of showing how futile it is for Liz to try to live a ‘normal’ life, before pitching her right back into demented weirdness and bloodshed. This concluding issue picks right up with her fighting for her life against a redneck cult. Interestingly the closest recent comparison to this latest Mignola/John Arcudi adventure is Alan Moore’s Neonomicon, although thankfully it lacks that book’s suffocating nihilism. Both books explore the possibility of absolute evil hiding amongst seemingly ordinary communities. Of course these ‘monsters’ may look like normal folk, but then Liz herself is incredibly dangerous to unsuspecting passersby. The next B.P.R.D. it seems will be concentrating on Abe Sapien – interesting to see where Mignola takes us next. -Emmet O’Cuana
NEW AVENGERS #15 (Marvel)
Fear Itself Tie-In!
This issue is a profile of one of the strangest and, admittedly, ridiculous members of the New Avengers family, Squirrel Girl. The former Great Lakes Avenger, whose power is that she can actually talk to squirrels, has gone head to head with Doctor Doom and won, believe it or not. That Squirrel Girl. As silly of a character as she is, it’s impossible not to like her. At least, for me, anyway. This story essentially deals with her point of view on the Marvel crossover event, Fear Itself, as well as her hopes and dreams when applying for a nanny/babysitting job with Luke and Jessica Cage. After saving a girl from a couple of muggers, a bunch of Nazi mechs swarm the sky and, the first thought that comes to Squirrel Girl’s mind, of course, is to get back to the mansion to protect the baby. At least, that’s the idea, until things get more complicated.
This issue was a welcome change from the other Brian Michael Bendis tie-ins to Fear Itself, which have mostly been panels of talking heads (literally) and soap opera shenanigans. It’s too easy to pick on Bendis for this, as many of his stories are almost expository in their pages and pages of dialogue between characters. New Avengers #15, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato. Nevertheless, he still remains one of Marvel’s greatest writers, whose trademark realistic and down-to-earth characterizations put him head and shoulders above many of his peers. Unlike his Siege mini-series and its tie-ins, the action on the Fear Itself stories has been minimal in comparison. This story, however, is something a bit different. It’s lighthearted fun and, while it’s not The Thing or The Hulk throwing down, it’s exciting in its own right. Mike Deodato’s gorgeous artwork has a lot to do with it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Squirrel Girl drawn this beautifully. There’s even a great set up that should excite most readers to come back next month, as it did me.
This issue may not be to everyone’s tastes, but, all in all, I was quite entertained by it. If you like oddball characters like Squirrel Girl (which I do), you should enjoy this issue. -Eric Scroggs
THE RED WING #2 of 4 (Image)
Let’s make this quick. If you’re not reading The Red Wing, you should be. If you are, isn’t it just great? Really, really great. Jonathan Hickman got most of the brain-bleeding madness out of his system with the last issue, so thankfully there’s more character work here. Yes there’s a lecture on the non-linear nature of time itself and how it affects a human consciousness exposed to time travel combat….but that’s part of the brilliance of this book that no matter how impenetrable the concepts may be, the execution makes it riveting. Nick Pitarra’s contribution as artist cannot be overstated. Futuristic dystopias collide with Aztec-era wilderness and the artist is obviously not even phased by the challenge. With only two issues to go and the plot already doubling over itself maddeningly, there’s no telling where Hickman and Pitarra are leading us. Strongly recommended. -Emmet O’Cuana (Issue one reviewed here!)
XOMBI #5 (DC)
Another casualty of the DCnU, John Rozum and Frazer Irving’s mindbending series, a survivor of the Milestone assimilation by DC, is due to be wrapped up shortly. Xombi is an entirely different creation, a genuinely imaginative, great series that with any luck will be given a decent send-off before the blade descends. First off, Irving’s art brings a dusky beauty to the proceedings. Milestone comics had some great concepts, but unfortunately the art could sometimes be poor, scratchy, derivative of the popular Liefeld style at the time. Irving is another school entirely. Hopefully some day Gutsville will also return, but if DC sees fit to let Irving loose on this world of floating Nephilim skulls, gun-toting nuns and nightmare visions in a mirror (there is a single horrifying panel in this issue that the artist interestingly chooses to obscure with shadow) – well that will be a good day. Rozum’s ambitious storyline has the perfect collaborator in Irving and it appears matters are ramping up to a climactic finish. In between we have little human moments broken up by flashes of humour (“Sweet! I cannot believe I get to ride a pterodactyl – How cool is that?”). Jump on board before the Xombi train leaves the station for the last time. -Emmet O’Cuana
And now two bonus Bullet Reviews of this week’s Spider-Island books!
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #667 (Marvel)
Spider-Island Begins Now!
The Jackal has released a swarm of genetically modified bedbugs that grant spider powers all throughout New York’s population. Spider-Island continues, and if last month’s issue was a tribute to all things that make Spider-Man great, this one gets right down to the story. In true Spidey tradition, Peter Parker’s life went from awesome to bad to worse, and it’s only been two issues. Pete’s girlfriend, Carlie Cooper, reveals that she has spider powers as the new Madame Web (former Spider-Woman, Julia Carpenter) prepares Spider-Man for what is to come. Problem is, her partner Shang-Chi isn’t happy with the way she’s handling things. Meanwhile, The Jackal is terrorizing the streets with Tarantula and The Spider-King (who may or may not be a genetically engineered Kaine and Ben Reilly), infecting Manhattan’s criminals and turning them into Spider-Men. There’s Black Suit Spider-Man, Battle Damaged Spider-Man, Negative Spider-Man, and so on and so forth. An action figure collector’s wet dream. Even Mary Jane is fooled by an FF Spidey poseur! Anyway, as criminals are wont to do, they set out to loot, rob, steal, and wreak havoc on the city. So Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, Jr. declares a city-wide epidemic.
You want guest stars, you say? You got ‘em! Namely, in the forms of Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, Cloak and Dagger, Gravity, Firestar, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, The Thing, Mr. Fantastic, Red Hulk, and Wolverine. Whew! While some may be put off by Dan Slott’s unrelenting cornucopia of guest star action and breakneck storytelling, I, for one, am not. If you’re like me and you’re looking for an alternative to Marvel’s other event, Fear Itself, you’ll find it here. All those heroes spilling out of Cloak’s, er, cloak in one panel has done what Fear Itself has not been able to do in five issues. And that is, tell a comic book story that is FUN.
Dan Slott’s script and pacing is kinetic and clever… which is quite a feat, considering all the sub-plots he’s juggling here. There’s a lot of detail being laid out as quickly as the scenes are. Humberto Ramos and Carlos Cuevas keep things light and super heroic, while perfectly capturing the essence of New York. This story just oozes MARVEL. Very much in the vein of a Saturday morning cartoon.
That’s the highest compliment I can give a superhero comic book. -Eric Scroggs
SPIDER-ISLAND: CLOAK & DAGGER #1 of 3 (Marvel)
First off, if this book fails to make a star out of artist Emma Rios, there’s just no justice in the world. Her style is a fascinating hybrid of Adrian Alphona and Paul Pope – a combination which funnily enough reflects the characters of Cloak and Dagger themselves. Nick Spencer repeatedly splits panels between the two characters, allowing Rios to weave her art in amongst his differently colored narration representing the divisions between them, while also symbolizing their closeness. It’s an audacious method of illustrating the partnership between these two characters, while the script also allows for several humorous moments resulting from this contrast: “New York City was a very different place then”, “Everything smelled like Pee.” Of course the laugh out loud moment is when Iron Fist requests that Cloak transport the assembled heroes to battle the Spider Island rioters, only for the teleporter to point out that the mob are two blocks away. This is the first time since Brian K. Vaughan’s use of the characters in Runaways that I feel a team has genuinely ‘got’ Cloak and Dagger. While this is nominally part of a crossover, it does a fine job of re-establishing the characters, setting up their recent histories for new fans and reminding older ones why they liked this unusual duo in the first place. Great art and chuckles – what more do you want? -Emmet O’Cuana
You may or may not have noticed that I, SkottJimenez, seem to have zero Bullets this week. Well, you are right. BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to add! See, this week was nothing but Spider-Island for me and I put together a little something covering all three Spider-Island books that came out this week. Check it out RIGHT HERE!