Review – Iron Man: Believe

Iron Man: Believe is a breezy, confident relaunch for the Armored Avenger, and while it lacks the depth of some of Kieron Gillen’s best work, its casual inventiveness should charm and thrill a lot of readers.

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In a lot of ways, Iron Man was kind of a B-lister even 10 years ago. Sure, he was on the Avengers regularly, but at that point, basically everyone was on the Avengers. Until the mid-2000s, the only major storyline he really had outside of the Avengers franchise was Demon in a Bottle, a melodramatic but largely excellent story that defined the character for years to come. The dual success of his movie – particularly Robert Downey Jr.’s incredibly charismatic performance as Tony – and Civil War, a story that put him at odds with Captain America and gave him a lot of intensely emotional material, has made him one of Marvel’s most marketable heroes.

His status as an A-list hero is fitting given the vast changes to the role technology places in our everyday lives, and Matt Fraction’s largely excellent run from 2008-2012 helped cement his status as a modern pop icon. British writer Kieron Gillen, fresh off of reinventing Loki and pushing the X-Men into war with the Avengers, was an interesting choice to relaunch the character for the Marvel Now initiative, and Iron Man: Believe is the first volume of Tony’s relaunched adventures. So, how does Gillen fare?

Written by Gillen and penciled by Greg Land, Iron Man: Believe is probably one of the least dramatic re-launches of the Marvel Now initiative – but just because Tony is still fundamentally the same man dealing with essentially the same conflicts, don’t mistake this for business as usual. Kieron Gillen’s Iron Man is an unusually thoughtful adventure, and it continues the hero’s run of strong, character-focused stories that push Tony forward without trying to break the formula of who he is and why he works.

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Review – Batgirl: Knightfall Descends

Gail Simone has long been one of DC’s best writers, but her New 52 Batgirl run has been troubled at best. While Batgirl: Knightfall Descends remains deeply flawed, it is nevertheless a huge step in the right direction for the troubled title.

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If there was one person who could save the idea of ‘Babs as Batgirl’, it was Gail Simone. Gail had years of experience writing Barbara Gordon, more experience than virtually any other comic writer still regularly working today. She was extremely familiar with the Gotham City crew, and she’d been writing dark action comics for years. Gail Simone was the perfect choice for the New 52 iteration of Batgirl. But her run has been divisive at best, though perhaps with the way DC treated fans of Steph and Cass that was always bound to happen, and reviews have generally been tepid.

So, where did it go wrong?

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Review – Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire

Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire updates Valiant’s cyborg soldier for a new era of comics storytelling with a surprisingly smart, thoroughly engaging action book. B+

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I admit it, Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire was the book I was looking least forward to reading. The cover, though strikingly designed by Arturo Lozzi (he, David Aja and Esad Ribic have done fantastic cover work for Valiant, and he also contributes interiors to this book) with a great use of color and an evocative image, just set my “Ugh, the 90s” alarm off. And while Bloodshot, a book about a seemingly invincible renegade soldier betrayed by his country, is very much a child of the 90s, it is (like the other Valiant books I’ve read) at least an uncommonly smart child. Bloodshot writer Duane Swiercyznski knows exactly what you expect from a book like this… and he knows how to use the tropes and imagery of such stories in fresh, sometimes even exciting ways.

Bloodshot: Setting the World on Fire follows the titular hero as he… well, he pretty definitively doesn’t set the world on fire, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s quite possible we’re seeing our hero at his lowest point in this volume, as he finds out the tragic secret behind his past and makes enemies of his creators, all without knowing precisely who they are or what he’s done for them. Bloodshot is a very passive character through much of this, and, refreshingly, what few choices he makes – rather than actions he’s forced into, which drive much of the plot – are more passive. Sure, he kills a lot of people, but that’s mostly when he’s forced to fight; when he has time to think and make his own decisions, he goes looking for people he remembers and tries, by and large, not to hold grudges. It’s a refreshing twist in a genre that rarely prizes introspection, and I’m glad Swiercyznski found time to work it into a story that is otherwise incredibly propulsive.

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Review – Archer & Armstrong: The Michelangelo Code

Fred Van Lente’s Archer & Armstrong, part of the inordinately strong Valiant relaunch, might just be the best of a very good bunch.

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As someone who has been reviewing comics for five years now, I’ve always hated one response that I seem to get regularly when I criticize certain fan-favorite writers for slack storytelling skills. Essentially, “You’re just overthinking it. Can’t you just turn your brain off and have fun?” It’s just never seemed like a good reason to excuse bad work – I love turning my brain off and enjoying something like Crank 2: High Voltage or Zoolander, movies that are exceptionally well-made bits of fluff, that know exactly what they want to do or say and dedicate every resource they have to achieving precisely that effect.  It’s what separates, say, Blazing Saddles from Epic Movie – both may be in the same genre, neither requires too much thought to enjoy, but one (Blazing Saddles) clearly loves and understands the genre and tropes it’s parodying, while the other coasts off of recognizing obvious references. There’s no joke, just the thrill of being ‘in’ on it, whatever it is. Just because your job is to get me to relax and have a good time doesn’t mean I should forgive you for being bad at it.

All of which is to say that Archer & Armstrong: The Michelangelo Code is simple, turn-off-your-brain escapist entertainment – and it is very, very good at doing what it sets out to do. Like with many of the classic Mel Brooks or Zucker-Abrams-Zucker spoofs, it absolutely errs on the side of broadness at times, of throwing too many gags at the wall and hoping some will stick, but as you read, you can also feel just how much fun writer Fred Van Lente and his crew are having. In his excellent run on The Incredible Hercules, Van Lente showed that he knew how to make a mismatched pair of friends bounce off one another in entertaining, endlessly readable ways, but he really seems to kick things up a notch here. Divorced from Marvel continuity, Archer & Armstrong gets weird – and fun! – in ways The Incredible Hercules never could.

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Review: Tumor

What if you couldn’t trust your eyes, your ears, your memory?  What if your past became indistinguishable from your present?   In Tumor, Joshua Fialkov and Noel Tuazon deal with just those questions: when P.I. Frank Armstrong is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and basically sentenced to death, he’s given one last opportunity to redeem himself, one last case.   But the girl looks just a little bit too much like Frank’s late wife, a beautiful woman who haunts him when the tumor makes it too hard for Frank to separate the past from the present, reality from hallucination, and as he digs in deeper trying to protect her, he starts losing control of what’s left of his life.

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