Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Review: Batman Incorporated #8

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Burnham
Publisher: DC Comics

Batman and Talia Al Ghul's personal war rages over Gotham City, but as they both seek to win, they both lose.

As the cover to my left may have already given away, this issue of "Batman Incorporated" marks what is potentially Damian Wayne's final appearance as Robin, The Boy Wonder. The battle between his parents has been expertly told by veritable genius, Grant Morrison, across multiple series, since his very first arc on "Batman" way back in 2006. The prodigy has long claimed his initial plans called for Damian's death, but the character proved so entertaining to write, the young Master Wayne earned himself a reprieve. It's only fitting the writer should revisit the poor boy's fate in the run up to his own final issues.

Ironically, this major event comes hot on the heels of Scott Snyder's parallel blockbuster series "Death of the Family", which ended mere weeks ago, with no fatalities. So to have Damian survive the cruelty of the Joker, only to die soon after, at his own Mother's behest, is the ultimate cruelty. This trick is somewhat of a double-edged sword, as all eyes were on Snyder's masterwork, no one would possibly suspect Morrison of such a status-quo shattering development in short order.

The character's final fate is plain to see in the structure of the issue. Morrison goes out of his way to give Damian several memorable moments that will leave tears in the eyes of long-time fans. Chief among them, the camaraderie between he and Dick Grayson. For a short time, Dick and Damian operated as Gotham City's Dynamic Duo in the pages of "Batman & Robin" and this is not lost on Grant Morrison. In what has to be one of best moments of all Batman's long history, Damian tells Dick he was his favourite partner and that they will always be the best in his eyes. That moment alone fills my heart with joy, so it's only right something crushing happens later. If this had to be their final team-up, it was the right note to end on. Seeing the pair of them jump out from behind cover and dive into battle, side by side, is downright inspirational.

It's with that same manic pride in his own abilities that Damian chooses to take on his insane clone alone and endures the most vicious beating you could ever imagine a ten year old boy taking. Remember how we all winced when Jason Todd was beaten to death with a crowbar by the Joker back in the 80's? Well this is worse. This is a knock-down drag-out brutal slug-fest. I have to give Damian credit, he absolutely went out swinging. For every cringe-inducing blow that's landed on the youngster, he gives one back. The Boy Wonder refused to stay down at every turn and he'll always have my respect for that. Robin earned his wings.

Of course, the scariest thing about this issue, isn't even in the issue itself. What we are all dreading is the aftermath. Just how the hell does Bruce Wayne cope with the death of his only son? This is a man who thought dressing up as a giant bat and fighting crime was a sane way to deal with the death of his parents. Therefore, I am genuinely terrified at what horrors Grant Morrison has just unleashed on an already Dark Knight. The death of Jason Todd was traumatic enough. It cast a permanent shadow over the next twenty years of Batman comics. You couldn't crack an issue without finding Bruce staring at that damn display case (or having someone thrown through it). Losing Damian could shatter both the man and the hero forever. There is no more status quo.

10 out of 10

Review: Star Trek - The Next Generation - Hive #4

Writers: Brannon Braga, Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett
Artist: Joe Corroney
Publisher: IDW Comics

Captain Jean Luc Picard has the fate of the Galaxy in his hands, but will his resolve remain strong in the face of potential genocide?

This isn't the first time the good Captain has been to this dance. In the classic TNG episode "I, Borg", Picard was presented with a paradoxical computer program, that if uploaded into the Borg Collective, would end their threat once and for all. But through talking to the liberated drone, Hugh, the crew of the Enterprise came to realise the innocent nature of the assimilated and hesitated to pull the proverbial trigger. Though years may have passed, our heroes find themselves in the exact same position. Only this time, the Borg are coming in force and the humanitarian approach isn't an option.

Considering the death and destruction the Borg Collective have wreaked across the Milky Way since last they had the option, you can't exactly blame these otherwise noble people for having an itchy trigger finger. However, much of this series has outright contradicted emotional journeys established in the shows themselves. Picard had already faced his demons in the motion picture "First Contact" and Seven of Nine progressively embraced her humanity throughout the entire of "Voyager", so to see them fall back into the hands of the Collective is downright heartbreaking.

For all the good that creative mind Brannon Braga brought to the Star Trek franchise over the decades, his writing has become predictable and trite. Ask any modern day fan their opinion of his stories and it's as if his very name were a dirty word. Just like George Lucas before him, he may've helped get us here, but he's treated us like cr*p ever since. His last effort being the notorious dreadful "These Are The Voyages", also known as the reviled Enterprise series finale. That episode was disrespectful to the show itself and relied far too heavily on flimsy shock tactics to get a rise out of the audience. It's unfortunate to find those same tendencies are still apparent today.

The sad thing is that the building blocks for a fantastic story were there. With only a few small tweaks, we could've had a fond farewell to several beloved Star Trek characters. Instead, we have an absolute mess, that wipes a handful of major players off the board in various unsatisfying ways. The strangest of all being Braga killing off his own ex-girfriend, Jeri Ryan! Her character, Seven of Nine, was Voyager's breakout star and her journey towards reclaiming her humanity was the best arc the show ever attempted. But with this series, she ultimately failed. She went back to the Borg, was violated anew and sacrificed her life in a vain effort to save thousands while TRILLIONS died around her. The heroic death is appreciated, but throughout the course of this mini-series, she fell so far from the heights of her time on Voyager. Captain Janeway would be genuinely saddened to see her personal pet project go out in such a manner.

Another confusing treatment of a beloved character comes in the form of resurrected android, Data. Braga went to alot of trouble to include the character in his story, but with seemingly little gain. Some convoluted story about the Borg assimilating the Daystrom Institute and salvaging his files from the B4 unit seen in "Nemesis". But for all that effort, what did Data actually do? He popped in, said hello to his friends (who aren't exactly given time to react to the return of their dead colleague), stood in the background as Picard and Seven saved the day, then disappeared as the timeline corrected itself. Braga, you just reversed your own reversal!

As a fan, particularly of the Borg, I couldn't help but notice the blatant repetition of classic plot devices throughout this mini. Picard facing his fears of Locutus, check. The Borg Queen gloating from her impenetrable fortress, check. A magic virus that will save the day, check. The brave hero feeding themselves to the Borg, check. It basically played like a greatest hits album. If you've seen "Best of Both Worlds", "Scorpion", "Unimatrix Zero" or "Endgame", you've seen Hive.

As bad as I thought this series was as a whole, I don't want this to come across as a denigration of everything Star Trek. I clearly love the characters and the concepts or I wouldn't be voluntarily reading the story in the first place. In trying to find the rare good qualities of Hive, let it be known that I thought the wrap-up was fantastic. I absolutely loved the idea of a free Borg race establishing their own colony, not to mention Picard hinting he was about to resurrect Data (again). These concepts were wonderful and left me with a tangible feeling of "okay, the Borg are out of the way, can we see THOSE episodes now?". There is a rabid Star Trek fan inside me and they will always long for the next adventure.

5 out of 10

Monday, 25 February 2013

News: First look at Amazing Spider-Man 2 costume

Coming Soon have been given the first look at the costume being used for the highly anticipated sequel to Mark Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man.

Notice how much larger (and comic book like) the eye pieces are. Also, they are now tinted the traditional white, instead of the original's use of gold. Far more in keeping with what people expect of the character.

Similarly, the material of the costume itself has changed, taking on a raised quality, hearkening back to the style of Sam Raimi's original trilogy.

I love this new (old) look and can't wait to see it in action.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Review: Red Hood & The Outlaws #17

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artists: Ardian Syaf, Robson Rocha & Ken Lashley
Publisher: DC Comics

Coming hot on the heels of last week's "Death of the Family" conclusion, this issue serves as a rare moment of reflection for the Bat Family. While the Joker's twisted endgame left no physical scars, psychological ones are another thing entirely. With their bonds broken and their ties cut, do the Family stand any chance of piecing things back together? It's not looking good.

Despite the majority of the issue taking on an overwhelmingly somber tone, it begins with Jason touching base with Arsenal and Starfire, letting his team know he's okay and that they should meet him at Wayne Manor. The "Outlaws" are so flippant and energetic in contrast to the traumatised Bat Family, it flat out contradicts the nature of the story. Where most people would be walking on egg shells, Roy and Kori have the social grace of a bull in a china shop.

After which, Jason works his way through the chain of command, from Robin to Nightwing to Alfred to Batman, looking for a twisted form of validation. While you would think a rebel like Red Hood would easily relate to the troubled child that is Damian Wayne, the pair struggle to verbalise their feelings, even with their recent experiences as Wingman and Red Bird in Batman Incorporated.

Starfire's presence at the Manor posed some interesting questions for Nightwing, as their past relationship has been shrouded in mystery since the advent of the New 52. But anyone looking for any serious resolution will be unfortunately let down, as Dick outright refuses to see her, not wishing to expose any more loved ones to the Joker. Just what the pair's relationship was meant to be in this new continuity, I'm not really sure. The New Teen Titans never existed, meaning they met in some other fashion and apparently ended things on bad terms. Not that it matters, as the New 52 Starfire has had the short term memory of a Goldfish. Don't even get me started on whether Dick and Roy are still best friends. I'm not sure we'll ever know. At least while Scott Lobdell is writing Arsenal as an adolescent douche.

The most important scene in the eyes of fans will be Jason sharing panel-time with Bruce...and it doesn't turn into a shouting match! As Batman and Red Hood, the two of them have been fighting continuously, ever since Jason returned from the dead and expressed his leaning towards more permanent solutions to criminals than locking them away in an easily escapable Asylum. After his recent betrayal of the Bat Family, Bruce has had somewhat of a change of heart. While he'll never agree with Jason's methods, he appreciates the results. This is meant to be Jason finally winning Bruce's respect, but I can't help feeling as if Bruce is at such a low point emotionally, he'll do or say anything to get his sidekicks back on side.

Last but not least, the Joker has left a parting gift for dear old Jason. Small tip for Mr Todd - when a psychopath has had your airtight mask all to himself for hours, if not days, it's probably best to check it for booby traps before putting it right back on your head! The cliffhanger itself promises death, but I have a feeling it's more a death of personality. Whatever the Joker has done, the Jason who found a place back in the heart of the Bat Family will no longer exist. I mean, they couldn't kill him, right? The book is called Red Hood!

6 out of 10

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Review: Justice League of America #1

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: David Finch
Publisher: DC Comics

In the wake of Justice League's just-completed "Throne of Atlantis" arc, several major cities have been flooded, thousands have died and the survivors are calling for a superhero team with a difference - accountability.

While the US government (and one assumes the rest of the world) have tolerated the existing Justice League due to their heroic deeds during the attempted invasion from Apokalips and their ensuing popularity with the masses, they've never had true control over them. Batman and Superman are both well-established vigilantes, having had numerous run-ins with their respective city's Police forces. Not to mention Wonder Woman, who is an out and out warrior, looking to solve the world's problems at the end of a sword over traditional diplomacy. If such a team decided the government didn't have their best interests at heart and turned on them, there's very little anyone could do.

Enter Steve Trevor and Amanda Waller. Two long-time government operatives and most importantly - loyal. Where you would usually expect them to be assembling the latest Suicide Squad, they've been tasked to create the brand-new Justice League of America! On the surface, the team is a PR exercise, much like the Justice League International before it. Protecting the world, while letting everyone know just who is in control of the literal superpowers. However, it has a much more sinister purpose, held back from everyone, even the majority of the team itself - each member has been chosen specifically to take out their counterpart in the existing Justice League.

As with most first issues, we're introduced to the team through a series of recruitment vignettes. Steve Trevor approaches the new team one by one. In doing so, he offers each prospective member a particularly personal reason to join, whether it be revenge, fame, cover or genuine patriotism. My favorite being Martian Manhunter. Rather than Steve having to track down J'onn, it turns out he was in the briefing room the entire time! His affiliation with the Justice League in the New 52 has been tenuous at best, so to see him lined up for such a prominent role definitely gets my attention.

The other recruits are a little more generic in their first appearances. Cliched scenes of characters being approached post-battle and basically being pitched the same deal over and over again. There's someone they know or something they want and the government can help them do it. Rinse and repeat. One that did catch my eye however was the reintroduction of Stargirl to the DCU. Pre-Flashpoint, the character had always gravitated toward the Justice Society. But with the team permanently shunted to Earth 2, we find the ever-enthused Courntey Whitmore making public appearances more akin to a celebrity than a superhero. The character is a passion project for Geoff Johns, having created her way back in 1999, modelling her personality and appearance on his late sister. As such, she's always had a special place in the heart of the DCU and Justice League of America assures us the New 52 will be no different.

With the recruiting done and the team assembled, their first mission prematurely kicks off with a badly wounded Dark Archer desperately trying to make his way back to base, after being hounded by what looks like the DC Trinity of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. There's a twist to the identity of this new character and it's surprising to see them placed in such peril so quickly, but would I be chancing fate to say we'll still see them back next month, if not a little worse for wear.

It's abundantly clear that the Justice League of America have been formed to fight the existing Justice League. However, Johns will have to be careful, walking a fine line with both titles, as neither team are outright villains, merely different perspectives on the same situation. In recent years, heroes fighting heroes, as a concept, has become insanely popular. But with each passing conflict, the reasoning becomes more and more laboured. If one of these teams is to truly become the villain of the piece, it better be for a damn good reason.

7 out 10

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Review: Green Lantern #17

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Publisher: DC Comics

It's the beginning of the end. At least for Geoff Johns.

Entering into the final arc of Geoff Johns' epic nine year run on Green Lantern, I can't help but be nervous. He's been wowing us for nearly a decade, now all he needs to do is stick the landing. In the past few months, we've seen other talented writers struggle with endings. Ed Brubaker on Captain America, Matt Fraction on Invincible Iron Man, Brian Michael Bendis on Avengers, etc. These guys knew how to keep the juggernaut chugging along in their sleep, but when it came to the ending, they bottled it. It's with these recent failures that I enter "Wrath of the First Lantern".

As most people do before they reach the end, they wax nostalgic. Geoff Johns is no different, beginning his final arc with a scene watching the creation of the Universe (and Multiverse). It's the immortal moment whereby rogue Guardian, Krona, decides to look back and discover just how everything began. The one detail having eluded us all this time - the hand holding the universe in it's palm...was wearing a Green Lantern ring! After numerous protests from mainstay Ganthet, the pair are rocked by the arrival of an astronaut named Volthoom, carrying what appears to be a White Lantern. He claims to be there in peace, but the fact he has eyes akin to Christopher Lloyd in Roger Rabbit says different.

Personally, I haven't landed on an opinion one way or the other in regard to this "First Lantern", let alone this original state as Volthoom. I'm hoping they stick to the far more imposing modern day look, whereby the man is totally clear, but for coloured veins signifying emotion. As with all the other Green Lantern books due out this week, the First Lantern picks on one character in particular and examines their life in excruciating detail. In this case, he chooses Ganthet, wanting to unravel the mystery as to how he has grown so cold and emotionless in recent issues, lamenting the loss of his connection to "The Great Heart".

One interesting little quirk in dealing with the First Lantern is his power to reshape the Universe, however he sees fit. For a brief moment, he was able to use Ganthet as a puppet to convince the Guardians not to give up their emotions those many millenia ago. This caused shocking repercussions across the galaxy, with some characters disappearing entirely and others long thought dead reappearing. A power he couldn't sustain of course (like we were going to see out Geoff Johns' GL masterpiece with Abin Sur in the lead!), reverting the Universe to normal...for now.

Meanwhile, new recruit Simon Baz has been freshly transported to the Chamber of Shadows (not to be confused with Harry Potter's Secrets), bringing him face to face for the first time with long-time villain, Black Hand. It's obligatory that the pair fight, but you'd think after untold days locked away, Hand would know better than to try and kill his first chance at escape!

Ultimately, even with one foot out the door, Geoff Johns is still building the Green Lantern universe. If his nine years of contributions weren't enough already, his most recent stories have introduced a brand new Green Lantern in Simon Baz, a brand new villain in Volthoom the First Lantern and looks to pay off the looming threat of the Guardians of the Universe once and for all. Making it hard to imagine a Green Lantern series beyond issue 20 when he leaves.

9 out of 10

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Review: Alpha - Big Time #1

Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov
Artist: Nuno Plati
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Oh how things change in such a short amount of time.

Mere months ago, the character of Alpha was introduced to much fanfare by Marvel. If not a resounding everyone dropped their issue of Amazing Spider-Man back on the stands and resolved to come back next month, once this awful kid sidekick had finally gone away. Now, he's back with his own mini-series to annoy you in brand new ways!

Alpha was created in a similar fashion to Peter Parker's Spider-Man i.e. the classic "science project gone wrong". However, where Spidey took to heart his Uncle's mantra about great power coming with great responsibility, Alpha went completely the other way, proving with great power comes no responsibility whatsoever. He used his powers irresponsibly, didn't care who got hurt, took revenge on those who'd wrong him (*cough*schoolbullies*cough*) and most impressively - to hit on girls. Poor Andy Maguire proved a monumental irritant and raised the ire of the internet community in a fashion not seen since Damian Wayne first reared his grumpy head. His initial reign of terror ended just as quickly as it had began, with the Avengers de-powering Alpha, leaving him with only a fraction of his true potential.

Picking up where we last left him, Andy has returned to regular life, but not quite the one he had before. His profile has been raised so high, he'd be hard-pressed to be considered "normal". Similarly, his literal power-trip has left him on the outs with the "cool" crowd. Instead, he's somewhere inbetween. Stuck in social limbo. This gives us the smallest glimpse of humility in Andy. Has he finally learnt his lesson? Hell no. We're only on Issue 1!

After being flown back to New York City for his monthly checkup at Horizon Labs with our formerly-Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, the now "Superior" Peter Parker has had a change of heart. On account of Andy's good behaviour, our newly villainous wall-crawler has decided to restore Alpha's abilities, a little bit at a time. On the outside, this appears to be a gesture of good faith, but with Otto Octavius' mind currently occupying Peter Parker's body, the true intent is to exploit the Parker Particles that gave Alpha his abilities in the first place. More so than Peter ever would have thought to.

Sufficed to say, Alpha goes on to try and become the hero he's always dreamed of, but his usual reckless standards slowly begin to creep in. I have to admit, I love the narrative device of only giving Alpha a percentage of his powers back at a time. It almost acts like a metaphor for his personality. Everyone hated him at 100%, so now they're dialing him back to 10% and seeing if there's a hero worth working with at Andy's core. However, if he's still screwing up this badly at 10%, it doesn't bode well for future issues when Doc Ock cranks up the juice.

As insufferable as Alpha had been previously, I was surprised to find I really enjoyed this issue. Finding him down on his luck and slightly more modest, worked wonders for his likability. Also, coming at the story from Andy's perspective gives us the true entry point we were lacking in the previous Amazing Spider-Man arc. Where before, all we saw was Peter freaking out about having created this horrifying potential supervillain, we're now firmly on Andy's side, knowing his true intentions and just how genuine he is in wanting to become a superhero. Even when he screws up towards the end, it was in service of doing the right thing. I particularly liked the teenage point of view, where instead of thinking "oh my god, I did something terrible", he's thinking "oh my god, I'm in so much trouble".

Fialkov has done a wonderful job of re-introducing Alpha to an already-hostile fanbase. Before, Andy was nothing but a plot device in service of an anniversary issue. Now, he's his own flesh and blood person, with thoughts, drives and emotions. Human beings are complicated animals and sometimes it's easy for comic books to forget that in pursuit of "hero hits villain", but this series adds some much needed nuance to this new character. It's early days yet, but this issue proves to be a wonderful new beginning, with genuine promise.

8 out of 10

Review: Uncanny X-Men #1

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cyclops was right. Or so he'd have you believe. This brand spanking new volume of Uncanny X-Men, coming not too long after the last relaunch, explores Scott Summers' role as figurehead of the brewing Mutant Revolution. But which parts are real and which are media spin? Expanding upon the use of a PR agent in the last volume, these new X-Men are acutely aware that the true battle for the Mutant cause won't be waged against a cackling supervillain, but in the hearts and minds of their followers, whether it be on the streets or on Twitter.

This introductory issue is framed around a traitor in the group. Someone close to Scott, who has betrayed the cause and gone to S.H.I.E.L.D., hoping to bring down their leader. For the majority of the story, the traitor's identity remains a complete mystery. Whilst being pumped for information by Maria Hill, the turncoat recounts the Uncanny X-Men's most recent mission to recover a burgeoning Mutant from Police brutality. Sufficed to say, things go south fairly quickly and the team are ambushed by Sentinels. Even if there wasn't a traitor amongst their ranks, this new X-team have a long way to go in regard to teamwork. Whether it be their malfunctioning powers or their cavalier attitudes, the adults have just as much to learn as the children.

But I digress, the traitor. The Mutant Benedict Arnold. In a move eerily similar to how Bendis began New Avengers all those years ago, the team has to deal with split loyalties from the get-go. Rather than have the offender sat in costume and give the game away immediately, they are sat in a prison issue jumpsuit. There's absolutely no hair on their head, perhaps as a tip of the proverbial hat towards the late Charles Xavier. They have intimate knowledge of the X-Men, their operation and even Cerebro, helping S.H.I.E.L.D. to locate the new Mutants just as fast as Cyclops can. Hell, if Professor X weren't dead, he'd be top of the suspects' list.

I won't reveal the identity of this traitor, but I personally found the mystery to be quite lazy and trite. Bendis relies far too heavily on stripping away any identifying traits, meaning it could quite literally be anyone. By the time the final page rolled around, the image itself held no shock value, as the person in the chair didn't particularly look like the one we've come to know. This unfortunately left the dialogue to carry the weight of the revelation. If that logo were removed, we wouldn't have a clue as to who the traitor is.

7 out of 10

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

News: First picture from Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Director Robert Rodriguez has released the first official picture from the upcoming sequel to 2005's Sin City, A Dame to Kill For.

The picture features Josh Brolin in the role of Dwight McCarthy, having previously been played by Clive Owen. But before anyone worries about the recasting, the character in question undergoes extensive plastic surgery between the two stories, in an attempt to hide from his past.

Are you looking forward to the latest entry in Frank Miller's pulp saga?