Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Shortbox 7/31/08

A Red Mass for Mars #1 (of 4)
writer: Jonathan Hickman
artist: Ryan Bodenheim
Image Comics, released 6-11-08
One of the great regrets of my failures to regularly post on LowBrowMedia as of late has been not singing the praise of Jonathan Hickman. This guy is an outstanding creator. His Pax Romana series is amazing thus far, while Transhuman is a surprisingly original take on the superpowered genre. Between the two titles, he has me completely convinced to proclaim him as the next big thing in comics now that Matt Fraction has clearly established himself as a big thing in the biz. And I haven't even gotten my hands on his first book, The Nightly News, which has largely been hailed as a modern masterpiece by other comic reviewers.
That sets the bar very high for A Red Mass for Mars, and for the most part, it doesn't disappoint.
The story begins by setting the stage for another unique Hickman universe. In this future, Earth has been decimated by virtually every conceivable disaster, whether it be natural or a result from human ignorance. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, it does. A massive, hostile alien invasion. So what can Earth do to combat this threat? Well, there is only one answer: one man.
Now, this is essentially the Superman archetype turned on its head, which normally wouldn't excite me much. But in the hands of an such a dynamic storyteller, it's hard to imagine the end result being anything you'd expect it to be.
In this book, Hickman stays behind the keyboard as he did with Transhuman, but the book still has (what I assume is) that distinctive Hickman page and panel layout. Bodenheim does a fine job on the art. The color scheme the two utilize for this comic is particularly interesting. It's a subdued layering and really evokes a sci-fi atmosphere in a way that I haven't come across before. It truly is art of epic proportions.
In the end, this book is hurt by the expectations I had for it, but only marginally so. One of Hickman's great strengths as a writer he has exhibited thus far is setting the stage for his stories. That is what this first issue is. For the uninitiated, I can't guarantee you'll enjoy this particular comic as much as I have. I think it may read better in trade format, but that is based on the first issue. The setup for the series necessitated a grand introduction that required an entire issue, so you may want to wait for it all in one volume. However, for this story to fall apart seems highly unlikely.
8 out of 10

Daredevil/Magdalena #1 (one-shot)
writer: Phil Hester
artists: Phil Hester and Ande Parks
Top Cow Productions, released 6-11-08
Sometimes the problem with having a favorite character is that you can't recognize a mediocre story versus a fantastic one containing them. I'm irrecoverably guilty of that when it comes to Daredevil.
I purchased this one-shot essentially because it featured the Man Without Fear, but also because I was very curious how the art team of Hester and Parks would do when they tackled him, especially considering how much I enjoyed their stretch on a significant portion of Judd Winick's Green Arrow run. I knew nothing of Magdalena, and frankly didn't care.
Unfortunately for that character after reading this comics, I still don't care.
But that's inconsequential. It's about Daredevil for this reviewer, and Hester's version of him was certainly not extremely tortured Matt Murdock of recent times given to us from Bendis and Brubaker, but the guilt-ridden Catholic of later Frank Miller and Kevin Smith tales, which makes sense, considering that Magdalena herself is a Catholic warrior.
The story here is simple and ends somewhat predictably, so I won't go into it, but it's hard to surprise with a one-shot. What leaves me cold in this book is Daredevil mixing with the otherworldly. I know he exists in the same universe as mutants, skrulls and the likes of Thanos, but I just don't like it when he enters a full-on supernatural-laden story. Demons and Daredevil just don't mix well, as far as I'm concerned. He belongs battling crooks and other street-level adversaries in the confines of Hell's Kitchen. Hester keeps the two heroes in Hell's Kitchen, but there are some devil-spawns traversing about. All-in-all, it's a decent little story.
I kinda knew I'd be disappointed by this issue, but I got it anyway. Company crossovers usually leave you wanting more. If you're a hardcore Daredevil or Magdalena fan, this may be worth your time, but otherwise, spend your money elsewhere.
6 out of 10

Daredevil #108
writers: Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka
artist: Michael Lark
Marvel Comics, released 6-25-08
Now this is more like it. This is the Daredevil that I love.
Re-teaming Brubaker and Rucka from their stint a few years ago on DC's Gotham Central, this new arc focus is on private investigator Dakota North, a Nelson & Murdock associate, as much as it is Daredevil. And really, in part two of a four-part story, she's immersed in the juiciest slice of the plot at this stage of the book.
Lark's art propels this murder-mystery in realistic fashion -- exactly the kind of story I love in a DD comic. It feels like a little piece of crime fiction rather than your standard superhero fare with art from someone of his talents.
This being the middle of the story, I find it hard to give an accurate rating (the introductory and concluding entries in a story are always much easier to evaluate), but this is the expected strong work from the parties involved in its creation. This does have the makings of a classic Daredevil story when all is said and done.
8 out 10

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