Comic Review: The Defenders #4 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week will be a bit of a short review (its late!), but I picked up The Defenders #4 from Marvel Comics, written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by David Marquez, with colours from Justin Ponsor and letters from VC’s Cory Petit.

Cover by Marquez & Ponsor

This iteration of The Defenders stars Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Daredevil (hey, isn’t there a TV show coming soon with this exact team?), as they face off against a back-from-the-dead Diamondback, who is not only pushing a new deadly drug onto the streets, but also seems to have equally deadly superpowers of his own. He has already beaten Cage, and at the close of issue #3 it looked like he had put Iron First down permanently. But now that members of this newly formed Defenders team have started to work together a little more, Diamondback may have bitten off a little more than he can chew with these heroes.

It is interesting to see how much The Defenders has been informed by the Netflix shows, or at least what has been well regarded about them. Most of the characters are consistent between the comic and TV show versions (Diamondback not so much). However, Danny Rand is much more in line with the comic book version of the character, and the series is better for it. But there does seem to be a leaning on recognizable elements, and the next threat the team will face looks to be no different. However, with issue #4 wrapping up the initial conflict with Diamondback, this has been a very kinetic, simple and fun story.

Art by Marquez, Ponsor & Petit

However, as with Civil War II last year, the real headline for this book is David Marquez’s art. Everything in these 4 issues has been consistently great, with superb character work and even stronger action. The start of the issue is quick but subdued, with some very good shadow effects in the club and facial work from both the couple partaking in the Diamond drug, and the journalists at The Bugle. But the 3 pages with  Iron Fist unleashing his full power on Diamondback was gorgeous work from Marquez, and Ponsor’s use of dazzling yellow fire and red strikes made those pages sing.

The Defenders #4 is a fun cap to a very enjoyable opening arc. Bendis knows how to write team books and he knows how to write these characters. But David Marquez turns this into a truly strong book, and well worth picking up. Check it out digitally or in our local comic book shop now!

Score: 8 Emergency Transfers out of 10

Indie Comic Review – Lilith Dark #1 (Alterna Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“I wish I could have just one real adventure.” Lilith Dark

Another week so another indie comic. I picked up Lilith Dark this time from Alterna Comics. They have many new comics now available on www.comichaus.com/indies . The front cover itself was enough to draw me in, a kid with a sword riding a dinosaur? The only downside to it was the jealousy felt by my inner child. This story was written and the issue entirely drawn by Charles C. Dowd.

This comic begins with Lilith Dark, our mighty hero and slayer of beasts off on one of her adventures. I was immediately stuck by a Calvin and Hobbes vibe from the opening pages, Lilith Dark’s adventures seem a lot like Calvin’s Spaceman Spiff character. She lives with her older brother and sister and despite being kind-hearted and imaginative they don’t quite get her, wrapped up in their own boring lives of boys or dull, generic and legally distinct from real life video games that don’t even have dinosaurs in them! The only character who truly understands her is toy Dinozillus and above all else she wants a real adventure.

What’s impressive about Dowd’s work is that he produced all of it himself. Both the story and the art of a high standard, the light colour palette creating a very childhood-like vibe. Lilith is full of life; the comic could easily tell the same story on the art alone without any words. This isn’t to criticise the lettering, the issue does have a lot of dialogue, reflecting Lilith’s inner narrative on her imaginary adventures. Lilith’s face communicates powerful emotions from childish pouts to smiles and uncontrollable ‘squees’. Where the action picks up even the monsters are full of character and appropriately named just as a child does.

Dowd has taken on a lot with this comic, but the question remains, how well can Dowd draw hands? Pretty well it would seem. The simple nature of the art style does mean they’re less detailed than you may see produced by a different artist, however they do feel appropriate for the light-hearted story told within this issue. The only minor point, being picky I noticed was the cat paws (being a cat owner). They’re drawn with only three toes on each. Though I’ll admit this is me being very pedantic.

Final Verdict

This is a fun comic you can tell Dowd has put a lot into. My main criticism of the issue isn’t to do with the issue itself, but the adverts within. They broke up the flow of the comic at times in inconvenient places. It feels like something appropriate for all ages. Providing a relatable imaginative scope for kids and a bit of fun nostalgia for adults.

Comic Review: The Dregs (Black Mask Studios)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

I’ve been meaning to get round to reviewing The Dregs for a while, and with all four issues being collected soon (August 9th), it seemed like the perfect time to talk about it. The Dregs was created by Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler and Eric Zawadzki and published by Black Mask Studios, with Thompson and Madler on writing duties, pencils, inks, letters and covers by Zawadzki, and colours by Dee Cuniffe.

The Dregs is a grim detective story about gentrification, cannibalism and the human condition. Arnold is one of the many forgotten homeless on the streets of Vancouver, drug addicted and destitute and slowly being boxed into a five square block area known as The Dregs, as neighborhoods get homogenised and sterilised. But when his friend Manny disappears, it sends Arnold on a noir-esque trip through the streets, complete with mystery, death and even a femme fatale as he tries to get to the bottom of why the homeless denizens of The Dregs are disappearing, and why no one seems to care.

The Dregs relies heavy on detective stories, to the extent that the only possession Arnold owns is a battered copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, which he stuffs full of clues during his investigation. He even uses the pseudonym Philip Marlowe, the lead character of Chandler’s detective stories and one of the most recognisable gumshoes in fiction, when confronting people. There is a danger of creating an eye-roll inducing referential slant to a story by name checking like this, but the The Dregs takes these influences and weaves them in such a way that truly understands the detective story and the character of Philip Marlowe that were it not for the time displacement, I could believe that this was Marlowe decades after his adventures where his mistakes have driven him to the gutter.

The twisted nature of the plot in The Dregs is certainly very strong, but it is almost framing device for the more important things the book has to say. The first is that genuine Marlowe feeling, the drive to uncover the truth not only to his own detriment, but in spite of the fact that no one else cares. Not even the people he is ostensibly trying to help. The second is how this factors in to the core theme of gentrification, of the uncaring nature of supposed societal improvement wiping away a problem (in an inventive an horrible way here) rather than treating the causes and truly helping people. And everyone is complicit in it. There isn’t just one evil cackling villain, but scores of people either turning a blind eye because they are too disgusted to look, or actually benefiting from wiping problems like homelessness away like an eyesore rather than people who need help, and have been let down by society. In this, I think The Dregs manages to deftly hold a mirror up to the issues that are compounded by “solutions” like those proposed in the book (and the real life attempts at dealing with homelessness and drug abuse are often barely less ghastly that they are here).

The book doesn’t just rely on social commentary and noir dialogue though; the art from Eric Zawadzki is powerful in its own right. There is an ugliness to everything and almost everyone that sells the grim nature of the story, and for most of the four issue run the art is very strong, strongly evoking the work of Chris Burnham when he was working on Batman. So as a baseline, the art is good. But there are moments where it truly shines to be something truly great. Early on as Arnold’s investigation moves forward, the art takes on the form of a twisted puzzle, that goes hand in hand with the detective story setting. And in the last issue, as things start to both coalesce and fall apart, Arnold’s journey through the city takes on an Escher-style mind-bending trip, not out of place on storyboards for Inception or Doctor Strange. Cuniffe’s colours make these pieces look even stronger, and while the general street scenes are rendered all the more realistic by their drab palette, the unfamiliar areas of the city to Arnold are awash with a colour that seems blinding by comparison.

I wasn’t expecting it going in, but The Dregs is one of the most effective and affecting books I’ve read this year. The grim nature of the plot and the skilled handling of the subject matter, combined with a spot-on detective noir style and some gorgeous art, make this something well worth your time. Issues 1-4 of The Dregs are available online through Comixology (and physical copies may still be available in your local comic book shop), or you can wait and check out the collection when it comes out on August 9th.

Score: 9 hits of Listo out of 10

Comic Review – Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (Marvel Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“I’m the relatable super hero with relatable problems! Just ask my long-lost sister from my super-spy parents with Nazi g–.” Peter Parker

Up for another comic book review this week, and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man caught my eye. This isn’t a surprise really as I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming last week and really enjoyed it. As is the usual marketing strategy of course a new Peter Parker as Spider-Man series was  launched in time with Spidey’s long overdue solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This comic was bought to us by:

  • Writer – Chip Zdarsky
  • Pencils – Adam Kurbert
  • Colourist – Jordie Bellaire
  • Letterer – VC’s Travis Lahman

Although this isn’t the first issue in the series its pretty easy to pick up what’s going from the first couple of pages – Spidey has come into conflict with Ironheart over a misunderstanding, while he’s trying to get to the bottom of whoever hacked a bunch of old Stark brand phones and made them untraceable for the criminal underworld to use. Although that’s being set up as the long running plot driver, it isn’t really what the issue is about. There’s a lot of catching up going on in this issue, one of the criticisms of the Marvel comic universe is the massive amount of backstory (seeing as the main universe has never been rebooted) that you won’t have when you pick up an issue so you won’t have the full picture on everything. To get around that issues like this exist and we get a crash course in who this version of Peter is, his Nazi fighting spy parents and not-sister etc. We also get to see Zdarsky’s interpretation of Spidey, who is a little bit of a screw-up in this series.

Art by Kubert & Bellaire

As a tone this is very much a tongue in cheek series, there’s a high degree of self-awareness and jokes at the expense of other events going on in the Marvel Universe.

The art is focused on character interactions throughout this relatively dialogue heavy issue. Action scenes are very much limited, so Kurbert’s line skills for facial expressions and body language are put to the test. He packs a lot of expression into each character and the colouring from Bellaire helps bring these scenes to life and helps bring out the personality in each of the characters. Finally, in conversation-based issues like this lettering is key, and Lahman has done a great job in using the limited space available to properly guide the reader’s eye throughout the issue.

But, the hands. How do they look? I am constantly surprised how much of a difference taking close note of the artist’s hand drawing skills makes. Especially in dialogue heavy issues like this hands portray so much of a character’s personality and add a lot both the conversation and perception of who they are. 8/10 for hand drawing skills!

Final Verdict

This is an interesting start, don’t let my references to the amount of dialogue put you off. There is an interesting plot brewing here and the light hearted tone of the comic is refreshing when read at the same time as something like Secret Empire.

Score: 8 Really Expensive Coffees out of 10

Comic Review – Modern Testament Vol. 4 (Insane Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I’m reviewing the fourth and final volume of the Modern Testament: Anthology of the Ethereal series by author and creator Frank Martin. Volume 4 is another collection of three short stories (one split into two parts) published by Insane Comics, each illustrated by a different artist. Each story in Modern Testament takes a biblical or mythological being and places them in the modern world, following how they adapt to our times and how they choose to aid or affect mankind. As Martin says in his letter closing out the book, he saved the big guns for this final volume.

The first story, split into parts 1 and 3 in the volume, is ‘Better the Devil You Know… Than the Devil You Don’t’, with both illustrated by San Espina and with colours by Adri Pratama. A spin on the classic deal with the devil story, abusive husband Jack laments his financial situation, screaming at his wife and daughter. The devil appears to him in disguise, offering an extensive contract to trade Jack’s soul for enormous wealth. In part two, the devil comes to collect.

The art in this tale is the strongest in this volume, and the story the most compelling too. There is a solid twist that keeps it fresh, and the devil himself is brilliant and threatening as the lord of the underworld should always be. Espina and Pratama team up to create oppressive and dark looking art that 100% fits the mood.

The second story is ‘God Complex’, with art by Martin Szymanski and colours by Miguel Marques. An eminent and popular scientist calls a press conference to announce that he has discovered the theory of everything, one of the most elusive concepts in modern science. And in response, a bored God (capital ‘G’) applauds from the back of the auditorium, before telling his creations what he really thinks of them.

God Complex is the most depressing of Volume 4, and considering the subject matter it also manages to be the most nihilistic. That makes it immensely enjoyable, if you are a terrible cynic like me. The art boasts some of the more impressive visuals in this volume too, as God takes the scientist Professor Florence on a reality-bending tour.

And the final story finishes out the Horsemen of the Apocalypse theme that has spread across all 4 volumes, drawn by Anthony Pugh and coloured by Julian Dominguez. In ‘At Death’s Door’, Cain visits a depressed and out-of-shape Death, and tries to get him to embrace his role again. But the inevitability of his job, and how little effort it seems to be for him, has made him disillusioned. So Cain must try to get him back into being Death again.

The art in ‘At Death’s Door’ is simple but effective, belying the status of the characters involved. The story itself is a fun end to the theme that has played out across Modern Testament, ensuring that the collection and entire work finishes strong without taking itself too seriously.

Verdict

Modern Testament Volume 4 is a fitting end to a strong series, and is well worth picking up. You can order it online physically or digitally!

Indie Comic Review – Brain Shoodles

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“Shoodles (a portmanteau of s**t doodles) was never meant to be a comic.” Emily B. Owen

I’ve picked up something a little different this week. Tom, a close friend of mine who often points me in the direction of indie comics to review (@thischucklehead on Twitter for those who want to check out his own work!), linked me to Brain Shoodles, both written and drawn by Emily B. Owen (@TomboyPrincess on Twitter). This comic was made by:

  • Writer and Artist – Emily B. Owen
  • Lettering – Rob Jones
  • Foreword – Dani M. Abram

This isn’t a comic I knew much about beforehand, and as with most indie comics I review I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first opened it. For a comic with a very simple approach and style it was actually a very intense read. It’s clear from the beginning that this has been a very personal project for Owen which she has put a lot of herself into. Owen says in the introduction that this was never intended to be a comic, beginning as a way for her to process some of the thoughts and reactions she has had in dealing with mental health issues, particularly as a reaction to common advice that she and many others have been given for how to deal with it.

Owen’s format is a very simple one, each chapter begins with one of these common statements and follows a simple visualisation of both a response to it or how it can feel when following that advice when faced with mental health challenges.

As for the art – in one of the first panels Owen says she is no artist, this hasn’t at all prevented her from producing art. Owen has a very simplistic art style, and I don’t think any other would have been appropriate for a comic like this one. People are portrayed as simple faces on a variety of shapes which look a little like pieces of toast. In the same way in which emoji’s are designed to perfectly capture a single emotion which anyone can interpreted this simple style provides no barrier or ambiguity to what it’s like to be in the situations that are being portrayed. Rob Jones provided the clear and simple lettering, matching the doodle style of the comic.

Final Verdict

This will be one of those comics that stays with me. I’d recommend this to anyone, if you deal with mental health issues yourself it may be something you can relate to, and if you don’t it can give you an idea of what it’s like to face these challenges.

You can pre-order a copy of Brain Shoodles for £3 here:

http://emilybowen.bigcartel.com/

 

Comic Review – Dark Days: The Forge #1 (DC Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I checked out the ludicrously titled Dark Days: The Forge, the one-shot prelude to the upcoming equally ludicrously titled Dark Nights: Metal series from DC Comics. It has been oddly under-marketed it seems, and I was only made aware that it was coming and that it was being released this week because I follow Scott Snyder on Twitter. Dark Days: The Forge was written by Snyder and James Tynion IV, with the art by Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, John Romita, Jr., Scott Williams, Klaus Janson, Danny Miki, Alex Sinclair, Jeremiah Skipper, and Steve Wands.

Cover by Lee, DC Comics

Dark Days jumps between three main narratives. First is Carter Hall, or Hawkman, almost as a journal entry as he recaps his life (or lives) and his curse, the Nth metal that grants him rebirth and how he is tied to his love Shiera and the villainous Hath-Set. But there he also has impossible memories shimmering in the background, memories that look like a dystopic future in the grip of one he would call an ally.

The other two narratives, taking place in the current day, tie in a little more closely (for now). Batman rescues a scientist from a Wayne blacksite as a volcano erupts. He has been investigating metals, and something is wrong with the metal of the Earth. Batman’s investigation seems to not only go beneath the Earth’s crust, but to the surface of the Moon (well, a Batcave on the Moon), to another universe, and to a secret vault in the Fortress of Solitude as well. Meanwhile, the Guardians send Green Lantern Hal Jordan back to Earth, to investigate the Batcave itself. There, with current Bat-sidekick Duke Thomas, he finds a secret Batcave within the Batcave, indicating that Batman has been investigating something for a long time with a secret team, without letting the Justice League or the Bat-family know about it. Whether he can be trusted remains to be seen, but Hal doesn’t seem to be the only one troubled by all of this.

Dark Days: The Forge is a very strong opening to Metal, and with Scott Snyder re-teaming with his Batman collaborator Greg Capullo (oddly absent on this issue) for it, it is sure to be a blockbuster event. Snyder and Tynion IV have both written Batman in one form or another for a while now, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that they have a firm handle on his character and dialogue. Its nice to see a similar care and approach taken to some of the other cast members here, including those seen less often such as Mister Terrific and Mister Miracle. At its core, this series appears to be shaping up as a Batman-centric Justice League event, rather than just a Batman story. And that is important, as there is a worry and a tendency to remove some of the appeal of Batman by making him almost godlike, or making his origins stretch back to the dawn of time (looking at you Morrison). I hope this series doesn’t dip too far towards that, but for this issue it doesn’t rear its head too much. The ongoing mystery of the metals takes cues and threads from throughout Snyder’s run on Batman in such an impressive fashion too, that I can’t help but be drawn in by what it all might mean.

Interior art by Romita Jr, Lee & Kubert

Considering the talent from the art team, the only real negative point I can make is that with Kubert, Lee and Romita Jr all putting in an appreciable number of pages into the book, the art does come off as inconsistent from a stylistic perspective. It is however, consistently very good. Hawkman’s memories by Kubert retain a classic feeling with clear, bold line work, while the lunar character interactions and the volcano escape from Romita Jr feel a little more loose, and the epic scale visions and dark cave scenes show off what makes Lee’s style so iconic for superhero work.

Dark Days: The Forge is a very strong prelude to an event that I know very little about, but the creative team behind it guarantees I’ll be checking it out. This taste has only made me all the more excited about it, especially with the return of Snyder and Capullo for the first time since the end of their run on Batman. Check it out at your LCS or digitally now!

Score: 8 METALS out of 10