The New Avengers, Vol. 6: Revolution – A Graphic Novel Review

I really enjoyed this volume of New Avengers. The title gets a bit of a shake-up after the events of Civil War with a revamped, underground Avengers team featuring a black-suited Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Wolverine, Spider-Woman and the welcomed additions of Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and Ronin (a much-missed old friend wearing new duds).

The volume begins with beautifully rendered art by personal-favorite Alex Maleev. (Wonderful to see Bendis and Maleev together again!) I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but this tale in particular focuses on a long-missing Avenger and his search for a former teammate. Consequently, he doesn’t quite find what he’s expecting. Writer Brian Michael Bendis delivers a simplistic story invoking powerful characterization and potent emotion.

The rest of the volume features art by Leinil Yu and the new New Avengers. Yu’s art is a conundrum for me. It’s not particularly pleasing to the eye, yet it is absolutely charismatic and captivating. Yu is adept at delivering interesting angles and frames while cleanly progressing the story. I find myself studying each and every one of his drawings perhaps more than any other comic book artist in recent memory.

I’d also like to congratulate Brian Michael Bendis. He obviously wrote Revolution with Civil War and the then-upcoming Secret Invasion in mind, and so he’s careful to catch the reader up while planting seeds for the future. However, this is not what especially impressed me. What did impress me was the fact that Bendis played with flashbacks and perspective in order to deliver the whole of Revolution. Instead of giving us a linear story playing out from issue to issue, he took an artistic approach and allowed the reader to bridge some gaps and become mentally involved in deciphering the plot. Don’t get me wrong, even with the interesting technique, it’s a pretty straightforward story, but such added touches go a long way in satisfying me.

Overall, with the eye-catching art, inspired story-telling, and new additions to the team, New Avengers: Revolution was a very good experience.

The Death of Captain America: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

I’m a guy who waits for the collected editions of my favorite comic books, so my knowledge of the death of Steve Rogers arrived long before I read the actual volume in which it occurred. And you want to know something? It didn’t lessen the impact one iota.

This is because Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is masterful. This is not a title looking to shock you in one-and-done scenarios, this is a title where each issue builds off the prior and the author clearly has an epic plot in mind. The story progresses organically and logically.

Collecting issues #25-30, Steve Rogers dies in the first installment and then his supporting characters take center stage. Brubaker gives us a level of richness and complexity with Tony Stark, Sharon Carter, the Falcon, Nick Fury, the Black Widow, and Bucky Barnes rarely seen in comic books. The fact he keeps Captain America just as intriguing and captivating without Captain America is proof enough as to why this man won the Eisner award.

Now we all know who the current Captain America is, and this volume, as well as the preceding issues of this series, really sets up the events leading to Barnes donning the Captain America mask. It makes total sense and it didn’t feel at all forced.

In fact, I’d like to briefly congratulate Brubaker for reinserting Barnes into the Marvel Universe in a seamless, rational, and consistent manner. Unlike another once-thought-dead partner, Barnes has been handled with care and intelligence.

Furthermore, Steve Epting’s art is the perfect compliment to Brubaker’s realism. While cinematic in execution, Epting delivers characters and action that are believable yet extraordinary. His angles and layouts please the eye while strengthening the overall story.

Brubaker’s Captain America has been a delightful and unpredictable joy from the get-go, and I look forward to seeing where he takes us next!

Justice Society of America, Vol. 1: The Next Age – A Graphic Novel Review

Geoff Johns gets it. He just does.

There’s really nothing else to say, but since this would be a weak review without more exposition, I’ll keep going.

In my mind, there’s no truer paradigm of the mainstream superhero than Johns’. If you want proof, read his entire run of The Flash; or, read his work on JSA; OR, simply read his JSA reboot, Justice Society of America: The Next Age.

The Next Age picks up right where JSA left off. Most of the fan favorites are still around, as well as some inspired choices for new teammates. Furthermore, Johns has found a new mission statement for the Justice Society of America, one that is trying to teach the new generation of heroes how to be just that.

Johns understands the superhero team dynamic. He understands the archetypes necessary for such a team to be charismatic. Johns realizes how to make us care about his characters, how to present edgy–but not gratuitous–stories, and, best of all, Johns comprehends how to manipulate pace, deliver great dialogue, and present captivating foreshadowing.

In The Next Age, the Justice Society of America round up some young heroes who may need some positive role models and training, deal with a mysterious entity killing off the bloodlines of other heroes, and are introduced to an element that forces Wildcat to get out of the ring and into the human race. Since monthly comic books are by nature serialized, it also sets up oodles of possibilities for the months to come.

Consequently, let’s not forget about artist Dale Eaglesham. I love comic books equally not just for their stories, but also for their art. It’s a visual medium, and Eaglesham renders heroic looking, but not hyperbolic, figures. He chooses gripping angles within his panels, and, like Johns, he seems to have an innate sense of what makes a superhero comic both tense and fun. The hardcover edition of The Next Age even offers some breathtaking pencil sketches from Eaglesham during the design process.

We can debate all day as to whether or not Johns is the best writer in the comic book industry, but as far as pure super heroics and team dynamic go, there is no one better, and Justice Society of America: The Next Age is proof positive of that.

New Avengers, Vol. 5: Civil War – A Graphic Novel Review

I had the distinct advantage of reading this collection well after I read the unified edition of Civil War, so I must admit my perspective would be different from someone unfamiliar with the outcome of Civil War and its fallout.

That said, knowing what I know about Nick Fury, Iron Man, and Captain America’s current storylines, this volume of New Avengers was incredibly insightful and pertinent.

Though Brian Michael Bendis is the writer throughout, each separate issue making up the larger volume is drawn by a different artist and focuses upon a different character from the New Avengers.

While I don’t believe any of these issues are “must-reads” in order to understand the larger storyline of Civil War, they certainly help illuminate character’s motivations and set up plots to come in New Avengers and Mighty Avengers.

I’d also like to say that there is a component to this volume featuring Sentry drawn by Pasqual Ferry that alone makes the entire volume worth buying. I could take or leave Sentry as a character, but Ferry’s rendering of Sentry interacting with the Inhumans is an absolute delight. Certainly Dean White’s colors add to the beauty of Ferry’s art, and I really hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. In my opinion, Ferry is the go-to guy when it comes to interplanetary adventure, as I first learned with his stunning art in Adam Strange: Planet Heist.

New Avengers: Civil War is a great volume if you’re looking for different artists interpretations of some of your favorite New Avengers; it’s enlightening if you desire further character motivation during Civil War; and finally, it’s a nice springboard to new plots in New Avengers.

Had I read this in “real” time I don’t know I would have enjoyed it as much, but with 20/20 hindsight, I thoroughly relished New Avengers: Civil War.

Justice, Vol. 3 – A Graphic Novel Review

Let me first accentuate the positive by saying that all three volumes of Justice have absolutely brilliant art and are plain and simply fun to read. Seeing all of our favorite heroes and villains together in mostly their “Silver Age” glory with a modern twist is a fun trip for an old guy like me.

That being said, all three volumes of Justice have some glaring weaknesses as well. First of all, the overall plot is poorly conveyed and, at times, muddled beyond clear comprehension. I’m not going to say the plot was poorly conceived because I don’t know the exact intended storyline, so I say “conveyed” because I’m basing it upon what I read. Secondly, the narration sometimes tends to shift from character to character without an apparent signal. This shift fails in come cases because the “voice” of the narrator alone is not strong enough to help the reader figure out which character’s perspective we’re getting. I noticed this to be particularly the case in Volume III when the colors of the narration boxes were not enough to convey the viewpoint.

Finally, Volume III in particular got a bit heavy-handed with the heroes donning armor in order to face their foes. This felt a bit like a promotional toy move than anything, and furthermore it was difficult to figure out who was who beneath the armor in some cases.

All in all, I think Volume II was the strongest in terms of story, narration, and dialogue, but all three volumes had astronomical art with very cool interpretations of character’s designs. If you’re a fan of Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Doug Braithwaite, the Silver Age, or the old Super Friends cartoon, you’ll probably enjoy this work. Just be ready for a convoluted storyline and (at times) confusing narration.

Daredevil: Hell To Pay, Vol. 1 – A Graphic Novel Review

If you’ve been reading Daredevil for any length of time, you know Matt Murdock’s life has been moving pretty fast and furious for literally years. I like this volume in particular because it gives the audience a chance to recalibrate and get a feel for where Murdock has been and where he’s going.

Overall, this volume works to reestablish Murdock’s relationship with his wife, Milla. Milla’s been in this book for some time, but with everything else going on it was easy to put her on the backburner. Writer Ed Brubaker uses the issues comprising this volume to get everyone on the same page about Matt and Milla’s complex relationship as well as set up some conflict involving the two.

It’s not all romance, though. Brubaker also has a new enemy (sort of) for Daredevil to combat, one who is going to give the Marvel Universe as a whole some fits. Before we discover this villain, though, Daredevil must get to the bottom of the Gladiator’s atypical return to mindless violence.

The art by Michael Lark fits the tone of the book perfectly with a great mix of super heroics and crime noir. And the original covers by Marko Djurdjevic are literally breathtaking.

In summation, this volume was largely a chance to reacquaint the readers with Daredevil’s personal life as well as set up some major conflict to come, but at no time did it feel like “filler” material. Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark continue to make Daredevil a must read.

Ex Machina, Vol. 6: Power Down – A Graphic Novel Review

Ex Machina is one of those titles that should never work in the comic book medium. Former and short-lived superhero abandons his super-persona to become mayor of New York. And that happens before the start of the series. Let’s be honest, if anyone but writer Vaughan and Harris were involved, this series simply wouldn’t have worked.

Ex Machina: Power Down is a return to greatness for the creative duo. The storyline deals with Mayor Hundred struggling against a city-wide power outage just as a mysterious visitor takes his mother hostage in order to deliver Hundred an important message. That message has fascinated me and worked expertly as a bit of foreshadowing. In addition, as always, we are given flashbacks to Hundred’s involvement with 9/11 as well as some back-story during his training days.

The Ex Machina series started with a bang, utterly captivating me with every panel. However, the last storyline in particular focused a little too much on Hundred’s mayoral duties and not quite enough on the more fantastic elements of the series. Power Down is back to what makes Ex Machina work best–an equal blend of the realistic world of politics and the surreal world of super heroics.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the art! Harris’ artwork is extraordinary and this series simply wouldn’t be as enjoyable as it is without him. He gets better with every issue he draws, and he was excellent to begin with! Moreover, Mettler, the often-ignored colorist, is truly responsible for giving this book in particular much of its flavor. The colors demand your attention in such an unassuming yet powerful manner; it’s astounding.

Finally, Power Down also offers a “special features” section in the back of the book with some background information given by both Vaughan and Harris. Very fun stuff if you’re into the production aspect of the book.

Ex Machina is a must-read series for all lovers of literature.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier – A Graphic Novel Review

I’ll never forget when I first read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I knew Alan Moore was a god among men in the comic book world, but even I wasn’t prepared for the majesty of his storytelling, the potency of his intelligence, or the power of his inspirational imagination.

Thus, when news surfaced that a new League adventure called Black Dossier was in the works, I could not wait–COULD NOT WAIT–until its release.

Finally, after more than a few delays, it was unbound, and while I won’t say I’m disappointed in it, I don’t love it as I did the other two League volumes. That being said, I respect Moore all the … more … for Black Dossier.

Alan Moore is not afraid to create art on his terms, and his terms alone. While Black Dossier does not have the charismatic story or sheer excitement of its predecessors, it absolutely pushes the limits as to what has traditionally been accepted in comic books the last several decades.

For example, Moore has said for quite a while he’d like to write a comic that made use of 3D glasses, and so Black Dossier does (no worries–glasses included). There are postcards, comic strips (like in the newspapers), excerpts from single spaced files with handwritten notes upon them, unreleased editions of works written by popular authors or featuring well-known characters, and pamphlets. Seventy-percent of this book literally duplicates the innards of a dossier. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Consequently, I feel I also must comment on the exorbitant amount of nudity in this book. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has always been a book for mature readers and on par with an R-rated movie. Like every other aspect of Black Dossier, Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill challenge conventions, and I admire them for that. However, even I found the level of nudity gratuitous. For some characters, the nudity made perfect sense when looked upon in a historical light (of which Moore is an aficionado), but at times it seemed the nudity was thrown in for simple orneriness. In other words, this is probably not a book you’ll want your children to get hold of. And if they’re unfamiliar with Alan Moore and his rebellious inclinations, I also wouldn’t expose it to your parents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends.

Even so, because of the willingness of author Moore and artist O’Neill to put forth so much effort into an undeniable work of originality and fearlessness, they earned my unending respect. However, I’d be lying if I said the nontraditional embellishments were enthralling. True, they work in a roundabout way to complete the overall story, but in the end, taken as a whole, the story wasn’t terribly interesting, and the accompaniments served as an impediment to an already deficient plot. My disappointment originated from the impression that the plot served the concept, rather than the concept serving the plot.

As an artist, I absolutely loved the boundaries Black Dossier annihilated and believe Moore and O’Neill should be looked upon as artistic liberators. As a reader, though, I found Black Dossier dull and plodding.

Fables, Vol. 9: Sons of Empire – A Graphic Novel Review

What can I say? Fables continues to be the best comic book series out there–period. Sons of Empire maintains the excellent status quo by setting up a major storyline to come, giving us an interesting Christmas tale, and further exploring the relationship between fathers and sons. Most entertaining, though, is a series of “short stories” throughout the volume that fill in some gaps on lesser characters and events.

Really, if you’re not reading Fables, you’re missing out on the best series going.