Comic Book Review – The War of the Realms #6 (Marvel Comics)

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

Cover by Arthur Adams & Matthew Wilson (Marvel Comics)

Its been a while since we did a comic book review, but this week the finale of Marvel’s The War of the Realms came out with issue #6, so it seemed appropriate to dive into! This event has been the culmination of years of work on Thor from writer Jason Aaron, with interior art on the event by Russell Dauterman, cover by Arthur Adams, colours by Matthew Wilson and lettering by VC’s Joe Sabino.

War has come to Midgard, and the Avengers and the rest of the world’s heroes struggle to fight off the forces of Malakith the Accursed and his allies, who have already laid waste to all of the other realms. Thor hangs from the World Tree in the middle of the sun, seeking an answer for how to defeat Malakith and end the war. Meanwhile Malakith awaits Thor at Stonehenge, where he has his parents Odin and Freya hostage and will kill them unless Thor alone comes to face him.

In this finale, Earth’s forces turn the tide on their invaders. Despite their losses, in New York (the exact centre of the Marvel Universe I believe) Captain Marvel tangles with Sindr, Queen of Muspelheim, while Daredevil (now the God Without Fear) leads the charge against Laufey, the Kind of the Frost Giants. At Stonehenge, Thor Odinson takes an artful interpretation of the fact that only ‘Thor’ can penetrate the magical shield Malakith has erected to bring allies in with him, as both his older and younger selves join the fight, along with Jane Foster: Thor, Goddess of Thunder. Together they take on Malakith and some of his strongest forces to save Odin and Freya and stop the War of the Realms.

The War of the Realms is the payoff of years of work, with possibly more set up than any event comic I have ever read. This is ridiculous superhero comics at its best, and Aaron and co totally stick the landing. With 6 issues they have told a complete story, that not only never felt like it was treading water (as events often do), but was also somehow magically delivered on time (as events never are). Nothing drags, everything is just a constant dopamine hit. Aaron’s character work over years, particularly with Odinson and Jane Foster, is so strong at this point and both have immensely satisfying arcs that finish up here, and have so much potential for the future. Most supporting characters are largely just that in this finale, but a few get the chance to shine (notably Daredevil). But this was always a Thor event. There are just a lot of Thors to share the spotlight.

Art by Dauterman, Wilson & Sabino (Marvel Comics)

Speaking of a dopamine hit – Russell Dauterman’s art on this book. Not to take anything away from the more recent arc on Thor, but I loved Dauterman during the Jane Foster era, and it is great to see him stretch into the full Marvel roster. But the scale and magic in this finale are what is truly impressive, from the insides of a boiled sun, to both a storm of gods and a god storm, everything is just gorgeous. And constantly on fire. Wilson’s colours make the art burst off the pages, with a richness of palette that makes the ethereal and the brutal seem real. Sabino’s letter work impresses too, with so much going on and so much being said, it only takes centre stage when it needs to, and remains discretely guiding the rest of the issue.

The War of the Realms has been a triumph of an event, hitting on all cylinders and showing the full scale of how ridiculous and amazing superhero comics can be, especially when you have a great art team that can deliver the insane ideas of the writer to their fullest. I can’t wait to see what is coming next for Thor and Jane, despite the bittersweet knowledge that the story to come in King Thor will be Aaron’s last on the character. Pick this up at your local comic shop now!

 

Comic Book Review – The Wicked + The Divine: 1923 (Image Comics)

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

It has been nearly 4 years since The Wicked + The Divine started (I reviewed it way back then too!), and in that time the incredibly inventive series from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie has seen 33 issues and a handful of one shots. This week saw the release of another of these additional stories, with The Wicked + The Divine: 1923. Gillen continues writing duties, with art by Aud Koch and lettering from Clayton Cowles.

Cover art by Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson

With the conclusion of Imperial Phase Part II, the series takes the opportunity to again visit a previous pantheon of doomed gods, this time in 1923. Steeped in post-war modernism, this crop of gods resemble try-hard artists more than the aggressively hip stars of the main series. As the gods reach their two year expiry date, they congregate on an island for a party. But the party soon turns into a murder mystery, and while some of the players in the mystery may be more obvious if you are up to date with the series, there is a complex interplay between the suspects, informed by both the era and the natures of the gods in question.

The Wicked + The Divine has always been wildly experimental in its storytelling, both in the prose and in the art. This issue is no exception, and is laid out as a multi-chaptered short story punctuated by bursts of art for the key moments. Gillen’s script is complicated, almost to the point of convolution, but with a lack of hand-holding that continues WicDev’s heady and complete plotting. The murder mystery aspect works well, and the extended prose allows the characters to be fleshed out clearly to a degree that would usually not be achieved in a one shot. And the synergy of the closing pages with the main series is frankly deeply satisfying.

Art by Aud Koch

While the bulk of the issue is prose, the art form Koch is truly stunning. Almost black and white, except for all the blood, is is expressionism in its weirdness, with a bleak loneliness that punctuates the quiet moments and heightens the small amounts of action and the larger group shots and vistas.

These one shots for The Wicked + The Divine continue to impress, and 1923 may be the strongest yet. With a strong cast of characters, links to the main series and gorgeous art (not that McKelvie’s work on the main series isn’t equally gorgeous. This is different-gorgeous), it is well worth your time and as a short story, stands alone fairly well too. Check this out at your LCS now!

Score: 8.5 Zeitgeists out of 10

Comic Review – Black Widow #7 (Marvel Comics)

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

This week I’m revisiting one of the best books being published right now: Black Widow from Marvel Comics. I reviewed the first issue of the current run back in March, and as Marvel are doing a new ‘Marvel NOW!’ launch, I thought I’d review issue #7 as the start of the ‘No More Secrets’ story arc. Black Widow is being co-written by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, with art by Samnee, colours by Matt Wilson and letters from Joe Caramagna.

black-widow-7

Cover art by Samnee & Wilson

Widow has defeated the Weeping Lion, the man threatening to expose her past and a host of S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets to the world. Discovering that he possesses telepathic abilities, Natasha recruits him in her mission to stop her old Red Room Headmistress and her daughter Recluse, who have resumed recruiting young girls and training them as assassins in the new ‘Dark Room’. Together, Widow and Lion sneak into the Greenland Sea Base, while the rest of the issue flashes back to Natasha’s first kill mission.

Wait and Samnee continue to display how well they understand the character of Natasha Romanoff and what makes a truly great spy-craft story with this issue. This book has been one of the strongest offerings from Marvel in recent memory (and is mercifully untouched by Civil War II thus far), and the latest issue doesn’t break that streak. Razor-sharp dialogue permeates the book, and despite her recent set backs Black Widow remains stoic and formidable (and even a bit of a dick at the end, almost like she wants to create a new enemy for herself). Interestingly, while the art and writing are both of a top-notch quality throughout, they are given distinct parts of this issue to shine. The showdown at the end of the book between Widow and Weeping Lion, and the Headmistress and Recluse is driven by dialogue rather than action, allowing the characters and the plot room to stretch out, even if it is amidst some stunning visuals.

black-widow-interiors

Art by Samnee & Wilson, letters from Caramagna

However, it is in the flashback to Natasha’s first kill mission where the art gets to truly impress, and is really the most impressive part of this issue. The young Black Widow engages in some utterly brutal violence (it is a kill mission after all) to a degree that is all the more stunning coming from a child. Samnee’s art seems to step up a gear with every issue, and this sequence was possibly the best yet. The detached horror and fury from the young assassin’s face is chilling, and the montage of the implications of her kill showcases some excellent character work and panel design. Matt Wilson’s colours work superbly along with Samnee’s art, with the flashback scenes washed with a warm sepia tone and the present day steeped in the shadows and dark palette of the final confrontation in a spy movie, interspersed with the violent flash of colour of the discharge of firearms.

Black Widow is one of the best books on the stands right now. It’s definitely my favourite Marvel book (just beating out Mighty Thor), and when I look back on this year I’d be hard-pressed to think of another comic that I have enjoyed more. With gorgeous art, razor-sharp dialogue and a slick spy story, this is a must-buy. Check it out at your local comic book shop or online doo-dad now!

Score: 9.5 Exploding Heads out of 10

Comic Review – Black Widow #1 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. He missed reviewing them while he tries to write up his PhD thesis, so every other week he’ll be reviewing one, with potential minor spoilers.

More Marvel first issues! This week I picked up the highly anticipated Black Widow #1 from the team behind the critically lauded Daredevil run that ended in late 2015 – co-written by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, with art by Samnee, colours by Matt Wilson (as I suspected, he does colour everything I’m reading!) and letters from VC’s Joe Caramagna. Black Widow #1 was published by Marvel Comics.

BWNatasha Romanoff is on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. The super spy has taken something from her (presumably now former) employers, and their leader Maria Hill wants her stopped at all costs. This first issue picks right up in the middle of the action, as Natasha is declared an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D. and she attempts a daring escape from a helicarrier, cutting a brutal path through scores of agents that are trying to catch and pursue her. We don’t know what she’s taken, but it must be incredibly important (and considering S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hill’s recent behaviour, fairly damning) for the organisation to disavow one of their most valuable agents.

Black Widow #1 is very light on dialogue, with Romanoff herself uttering a single line right at the end of the issue and most of the rest coming from the agents desperately trying to capture her. This serves to let the action come to the forefront of the book, with no one pontificating or dragging the pace down with exposition. Widow has taken something. S.H.I.E.L.D. wants it back. Go. The pacing and style therefore mirrors in a way the elevator scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where Cap is suddenly faced with scores of agents trying to take him down. This feels very much like a direct and intentional homage to that, while simultaneously raising the stakes with regards to the action.

BW2And the action is superbly drawn by Samnee. With both him and Waid co-writing the book, it seems that Samnee had a lot of input on the flow of the story and as a result the action within. Natasha wrecks agents left and right, silently and brutally taking down all comers. Despite the pace and dealing with multiple figures, many of whom are in the same uniform, the fighting never gets confusing or muddled. When the issue becomes a city-wide chase scene, the speed and intensity is palpable. The line art is bold and incredibly dynamic, with an excellent variation across the book. And god damn that double page spread of the helicarrier as a title page was beautiful.

I joke about Wilson seemingly colouring every book I read (and it’s not quite true, but close!), but with every comic he brings something totally different that fits and really enhancing an already great looking issue. There’s a vibrancy to the helicarrier escape as Natasha runs through (or breaks through) the sterile corridors, a washed out late-afternoon glow to the chase scenes and a moody, bloody end-of-the-film style hue to the sunset showdown at the end.

The first issue of the new run on Black Widow is an excellent display of a creative team at the top of their game. These folks know how to bring out the best in each other, and it shines in this book. Marvel needs to stop putting out so many books that I can’t stop reading. Pick this up at your local comic book shop or digital comics app now!

Score: 9.5 Jetpacks out of 10

Comic Review – Paper Girls #5 (Image Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. He missed reviewing them while he tries to write up his PhD thesis, so every other week he’ll be reviewing of one of them, with potential minor spoilers.

This week the first arc of Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls came to a close with issue #5. The series started back in October last year, written by Vaughan and drawn  by Chiang, with colours from Matt Wilson (who apparently colours all the books I read) and letters and design by Jared K. Fletcher.

Paper Girls started fairly innocuously. In the early morning after Halloween 1988, 12-year-old Erin meets three fellow paper girls. What began as a reasonably normal night quickly spins out of control into an other-worldly sci-fi adventure involving gleaming futuristic knights mounted on pteranodons, time travel and accidental gun violence. Erin, Mac, KJ and Tiffany find themselves in an emptied suburban landscape where they dash between different supernatural occurrences, trying to figure out where everyone is and what is going on.

When Paper Girls was first announced, I immediately added it to my pull list entirely due to the creative team. Everything I’ve read by Brian K. Vaughan has been at least excellent. At least. And following his superb run on Wonder Woman with Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang has become one of my favourite artists too. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the series, but the off-the-wall sci-fi leanings that arose at the end of the first issue came as a welcome surprise. From that point on there has been no hand-holding for the reader, leaving us as bewildered and rushed off our feet as the four friends who find themselves dealing with the tech-augmented travelers spouting strange alien speech (I tried using a translation app on the language. Shockingly it did not work).

Paper girlsWhile this approach is initially confusing (and I certainly won’t pretend to know fully what is going even now), it ultimately comes across as strong, non-patronising storytelling from Vaughan. Erin and her friends are all compelling and brave, and their mysterious sci-fi antagonists are intriguing. The conclusion to this first arc adds a fun new wrinkle to the already disorientating situation the girls find themselves in, with the series actually improving with each issue (the time travel considerations with regards to position in space in the opening pages were great) and I can’t want to see what’s coming for the next part in a few months.

The art in Paper Girls is superb, and this new issue is absolutely no exception. Chiang deploys his thick, and minimalist line work to great effect, with grotesque body horror, huge sci-fi panels and rare quiet moments that show off very real emotion between the characters, despite their situation. Throughout the arc one of the most impactful visuals has been the eerie night sky above the suburb, forked with lightning and slowly filling up with more pteranodons, but the two pages of explosion and displacement that lead our heroines to the end of the arc are just gorgeous. Wilson’s colours provide a really strong solidity to the book, with the washed out palette he’s using working to create an aged aesthetic that lends credence to the late-80s setting of the comic.

Paper Girls wraps up it’s first arc well, despite the mysteries of the book largely being no clearer than they were from the start. I have no idea where the story is going with the second arc, and that genuinely excites me. The first five issues are being collected as a trade paperback from Image, due to come out on April 13th. If you can’t track down the single issues, either check out the trade or grab the issues through your digital comics app!

Score: 9 iNsecs out of 10