Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quarter Bin Review- “The Savage Dragon” #29

Image Comics, July 1996

Erik Larsen (writer, artist and cover).

Summary- Following her announcement that she's pregnant, a furious Rapture is looking for answers as to why the Dragon moved out of their apartment without warning. She storms across Chicago hunting for Dragon, unaware of the fact that he's seen a video that seem to show her cheating on him with Peter Klaptin. Meanwhile, Wildstar and his friends are wandering the city's sewers when they stumble across Rock's gang of homeless Freaks. Wildstar panics, and knocks Rock unconscious- and as luck would have it, the Dragon has just been ordered to lead a small army of cops in evicting the Freaks from city property. Despite Dragon's reservations, he dutifully takes point, but without Rock's calming influence, things threaten to spiral out of control- especially when Radical digs in his heel and refuses to leave, and officer Howard Niseman and his fellow prejudiced goons are just waiting for an excuse to unload with some hardcore police brutality. And as if things couldn't get more chaotic, the demonic Fiend is waiting in the wings- and it has a plan to consign the Dragon's soul to the depths of hell!

Comments- "Days of Our Lives" subplot aside, this is a another action-packed issue of the best Image book of the 1990s. From cover to cover, Savage Dragon #29 is jam-packed with kick-ass fight scenes, goofy humour, over-the-top violence and a generous helping of T&A (closer to two generous helpings in fact)... hell, there's even a spiffy free poster. Coming from a time when the comic industry was flooded with crap (and more than a fair share of it coming from Image), Savage Dragon was one of the best books around and it absolutely still holds up over a decade later.

Final Rating- 8/10.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Guest Review- “X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain” #1

Marvel Comics, December 2009

Fred Van Lente (writer), Dennis Calero (pencils). Cover by Calero.

"Die Psycho Scum!"

For me, reading and rereading X-Men Noir has been the most fun I have had with a comic series all year. X-Men Noir does more than put the X-Men in the late 1930s with snappy dialogue, low key lighting and general misanthropy, it is a detective story where the clues come from drawing upon knowledge of X-Men history. It is a story metaphorically linked to ordinary X-Men comics, and thus can only really be fully enjoyed by a reader with a fairly good understanding of the first incarnation of the X-Men team. Then there's the various literal interpretations (Iceman is an iceman, get it?) and clever cameos that make X-Men Noir a blast to read. X-Men Noir: Mark of Cain #1 picks up where the original limited series left off, and already it shows the same style of storytelling that made me adore the original series.

The original premise of replacing the mutants with sociopaths may have required a leap of faith from readers, but Van Lente made it believable. In the end, X-Men is not only a story of social outcasts, but also how the irrationality of the public can be used to aim their misguided anger towards something they don't understand, as made apparent by such fixtures of X-Men lore as Senator Kelly and angry misguided mobs. Once again Van Lente shows his cleverness by introducing Eugene Judd to the team, better known to readers as the lovable Canadian Avenger Puck, as a man who can make himself compact and hide in a variety of spaces. One of the better ideas is the linking of the comic to current issues, as with the island detention centre "Genosha Bay". Mark of Cain is however lacking a serialized short backup story like the one in the original series. While the disappearance isn't too disappointing, it certainly detracts from the pulp flair of the first X-Men Noir series.

The atmosphere typical of film noir returns as Dennis Calero turns up the shadows and Fred Van Lente lets loose the snappy dialogue. Van Lente adheres as closely as possible to the film noir genre, and Mark of Cain naturally has a very cinematic feeling to it. However the fact that the dialogue is censored at times really takes away from the experience. After all, you would not want little beeping noises in a film noir movie whenever an actor cusses on screen. There are also two instances where I could not make out for certain what the censored word was. Editorial blundering aside the team of Calero and Van Lente do an excellent job.

Calero infuses his work with a realism that grounds these powerless X-Men with a set of more believable skills. Sometimes it does seem that the shadows may be too much- with the shadowy faces and everyone wearing trench coats instead of costumes, it takes a second to orient yourself with exactly who is talking- an issue that presented itself in the last series as well.

It is hard to not compare Mark of Cain with the original series, because the original did so many things right and really raised the bar for any sequels. So far Mark of Cain seems to be following in the footsteps of the original series and that is a good thing. Though the ultimate verdict on the series will be delivered on the last issue, the first issue certainly shows enough merit to predict that Fred Van Lente and Dennis Calero will cook up another amazing story.

9.1/10 –Binney Sharma

Quarter Bin Review- “Hulk Smash” #2

Marvel Comics, April 2001

Garth Ennis (writer), John McCrea (artist). Cover by Kevin Nowlan.

Summary- Following a disastrous confrontation with The Hulk last issue, two American soldiers (Major Parker and Lieutenant Mitchell) attempt to rally for a second assault. Parker scolds Mitchell for panicking at the sight of the Hulk, endangering his men. Parker insists that as an officer in the army, it was Mitchell's job to lead- he didn't have the privilege of being allowed to feel fear. Meanwhile, the Hulk screams out a surprisingly eloquent speech about how humanity constantly persecutes him, declaring mankind to be the most destructive species on Earth.

Mitchell and Parker successfully lure The Hulk into a trap and drop half of a cliff side on top of him, but The Hulk just shrugs the debris off and attacks. Parker falls from the cliff to his death, his last words being an order for Mitchell to keep fighting. Mitchell is soon met by four soldiers wounded in the initial confrontation. Though Mitchell offers them a chance to save themselves, the infantrymen stand by him, vowing to stop The Hulk while he's still far away from civilians. The soldiers attack the Hulk again, and though they actually manage to knock him off his feet, they fail to take the green monster out. With no way left to stop the raging giant, and with his troops wounded and facing certain death, Mitchell trains his sidearm on the Hulk and orders him to stand down. After a tense stare down, the Hulk miraculously backs away and wanders off, either confused or impressed by Mitchell's willingness to risk his life for his fellow man.

Comments- Well, Hulk sure is well-spoken today. He's too savage to be Smart Hulk, too smart to be Savage Hulk and not nearly grey enough to be Grey Hulk. Maybe Peter David has a name for this one too...Ennis is probably more in the loop than I am. Though more likely than not, he didn't really care about how smart or dumb The Hulk usually is- he's exactly as smart and as eloquent as the story needs him to be. In all honesty, I was more concerned with Ennis' overuse of somewhat obscure military slang- I'm guessing at least ninety-five percent of the people who read this issue will be left scratching their heads at least once. Despite all that, this issue is fairly interesting, offering a strong story about military honor and offering a rare insight into the Hulk's psyche. "Hulk Smash" doesn't really hold up to Ennis' usual high standards, but it's entertaining enough nonetheless.

Final Rating- 5/10.