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CURRENT COMIC REVIEW

MISSION #6
Reviewer:  "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Writers:  Jon and Erich Hoeber
Artists:  Werther Dell’edera
Publisher:  Image/Collider Comics
Released:  072711
MSRP:  $2.99
Image's Synopsis:
In a dramatic culmination, Paul hunts down his nemesis, Luke, forcing a violent confrontation in a last ditch effort to save his family. But a terrible revelation awaits…
"There’s a great amount of this book that is just vague and mysterious, but it works...."
Featuring one of the most cold-blooded covers this side of a “Punisher MAX” book or something like it, “The Mission” #6 wraps up the first arc of the series, and turns everything readers thought they knew about the book on its ear. I really enjoy this title, so much so that I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts against anyone who’s never had the pleasure of reading it that if they’d try it, they’d enjoy it. It’s a gritty, street-level story about a guy caught up in a battle between two opposing forces that might just be Heaven and Hell. It’s that or he’s seriously f*cked in the head.

Ever since Paul found himself dragged into the age-old conflict between, well, whoever it is that’s warring with one another, his life has become one big $#!t-stain in the underpants we call ‘life’. He doesn’t know who to trust, people want to kill the $#!t out of him, his wife is losing her ability to trust the man she loves, and Paul, he may be losing the ability to trust himself. Gabriel, the older man who approached Paul in the first issue and gave him his ‘mission’ is looking for a relic rumored to be full of all sorts of special power. He sends Paul to retrieve it, and this is where Paul runs into Luke, who would appear to be working for the ‘other side’, whoever that is.

There’s a great amount of this book that is just vague and mysterious, but it works. It keeps me wanting to turn pages, pick up the next issue, all in hopes that I’ll be told just what the hell is going on. I desperately want to know what the deal is. I need to know if Paul is a good guy, or just a sick, sad man with a gun. Is Gabriel an angel or something more devilish? These, and more, are the lingering questions I have after reading this issue, but unfortunately it’s going to be another month before I get any closer to the answers!
MOST RECENT COMIC BOOK REVIEWS
  AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #667
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Humberto Ramos
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Marvel Comics   Shipped On: 081011
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MARVEL'S SYNOPSIS:
Start Webbing The News! New York City's Infestation is complete and eight million people are plagued! As someone near to Peter Parker's life reveals their spider-abilities, the brilliantly fearsome Jackal rises from the past and begins organizing an army of Spider-powered soldiers. Spider-Man isn't the only hero affected as the threat goon grows bigger than any one Fantastically Friendly Neighborhood Avenger can handle. Best-selling Spidey creators Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos spin a Spider-epic that turns Peter Parker's BIG TIME into a BIG MESS. Bad romance, death-defying violence and one man facing his FINAL fearsome destiny...
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
While I wasn’t exactly on board with “Spider-Island” despite the seemingly endless build-up over the last several months, after reading the Prologue issue and now this, the introductory shot in what is a six-some-odd part salvo, I’m quite impressed. The idea of EVERYONE on the island of Manhattan being gifted with Spider-powers seemed a rather obvious plot device, and the inclusion of Miles “The Jackal” Warren just screamed “CLONE SAGA” all over again to me, however both of these rather small details are soon overshadowed by the sheer insanity of the entire mini-event. It’s truly a remarkable story, and as a reader I feel Dan Slott is just getting ramped up and beginning to stretch his legs in Spidey’s corner of the Marvel U.

From Carlie Cooper’s page one revelation, through the Jackal’s first assault on Manhattan by way of Spider-Powered criminals, to the Avengers showing up and beating the crap out of everyone, even Spider-Man, I couldn’t get enough of this book. Even as Shang-Chi, a character getting a surprising amount of play in the Spidey books as of late, and Madame Web look on, witnessing the destruction of Pete’s character at the hands of dozens of Spider-Imposters, I got the sense that Slott was trying to build up to something extremely dramatic. There’s the ominous warnings from Madame Web, which is pretty much par for the course with that character, alluding to the fact that Pete might have to break his #1 rule, nobody dies…IF he wishes to succeed.

I want to be the first to go on record as saying that PETE isn’t going to kill anybody at the end of this series…sure, someone may DIE, but I don’t think that Pete is going to be the one that deals the deadly blow. He may not arrive in time to save the day, or he may not be able to stop whomever it is that seeks to kill whoever it is that’s slated to bite the big one, but he’s NOT going to go all vigilante and start merc’ing the baddies all Punisher-style…no, sir.

Humberto Ramos isn’t usually my cup of tea. I just don’t dig his big-eyed, Anime-inspired artwork…but in this story, THIS story, it really works. I don’t know what’s making me cross the aisle all of a sudden, maybe it’s the dynamic body language he conveys in each panel, every would-be Spider-Man is as interesting and unique as can be. He has a graff-writer’s eye for space and detail, and I enjoy how much he crams into the big two-page spreads. I think that by the end of this ‘event’ he may have just changed my mind with regard to his style and how good of a ‘fit’ it is for this book. Anyway, check out the first issue of “Spider-Island”, but only if you want to have a good time reading comics…if not, go read “Tank Girl”, or something.
  PUNISHER #1
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Marco Checcheto
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Marvel Comics   Shipped On: 080311
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MARVEL'S SYNOPSIS:
For Frank Castle death comes easy...life is where things gets complicated. Fully loaded the BIGGEST GUN of all returns with blood on his hands and vengeance in his eyes. As New York City's body counts continue to rise, the city's streets are teeming with more methodical criminals than ever and a police force doing it's best to keep its head above water. The Punisher has returned to serve his own brand of justice with everything's he's got... but can he survive the darkness stored in his own arsenal? Plus bonus pages exploring some of the new personalities in Frank's life...and how closely intertwined living is with dying.
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
The Punisher is one of those characters who, while held in some pretty high regard by a great many fans, can easily be written off as a one-note character. He’s angry, bad guys killed his family, so now he kills bad guys. ALL bad guys, any bad guys he can find, he’ll kill. No problem. This sort of a character can easily become a caricature of himself in the hands of a less-capable writer, but Greg Rucka is most certainly NOT a less-than-capable writer, in fact he’s great. I might even go so far as to say that I wouldn’t have read this book if it had been written by anyone else.

A family celebrating the wedding of their daughter, just returned from Afghanistan, to her fiancé, some guy, is cut short when a group of men calling themselves The Exchange burst in and lay waste to the festivities. In the end twenty-seven people are dead and damn near twenty more are injured. The police move in securing the area and begin an investigation, and that’s where Rucka shines. His ability to write police, with the Punisher as little more than a background character is without peer. His characters are fallible, they don’t know what the hell is going on, and they’re all too human. His Punisher is a force of nature, a beast from the depths of hell sent to drag back those of us who seek to do evil, to harm, to exploit. He works under cover of darkness, moves in shadows, has eyes everywhere…it’s kinda freaky.

There’s a great sequence after the main story in which readers are offered a bit of insight as to how the Punisher is able to operate with such efficiency, considering the fact that he’s WAY outside the law. It’s a fantastic plot device that introduces the supporting cast and proves, unequivocally, how important or a role they’ll be playing. The Punisher himself is also given a little more time to shine, and it’s all worth it, especially thanks to the glorious pencils of Marco Checcheto. Here’s a guy whose work on “Daredevil” was sinfully unnoticed, but thankfully someone in the Marvel Bullpen figured a way to get him on something more people are bound to pick up.

I was uneasy at first about the relaunch of DD, Moon Knight, and Punisher, but thankfully by sticking first rate creators on the titles, Marvel has gone out of their way to make these MUST-READ books month in and month out. I’m not a huge Punisher fan, but if Rucka is writing then I’ll be reading, and as far as my doubts, well, that’s just our nature as fans of the medium, whether we like the sound of something or not, we’re skeptics, and as such it’s more often than not that we find ourselves foot-in-mouth, eating crow, etc. I’m just glad that Marvel’s B-listers are being given the opportunity to shine.
  SILVER SURFER #1 (OF 5)
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Stephen Segovia
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Aspen Comics   Shipped On: 021611
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MARVEL'S SYNOPSIS:
The sentinel of the spaceways walks the Earth once more, a stranger feared by many. Only the HIGH EVOLUTIONARY understands his true potential, but the Evolutionary's mysterious grand design may cost the Surfer everything and change the cosmic balance forever! He's traded blows with Thor and matched wits with Mephisto, but can the herald of Galactus survive the judgment of NORRIN RAND, the man within the Silver Surfer? It's a character-defining epic showing the Silver Surfer as you've never seen him before, brought to you by "Planet Hulk" writer Greg Pak and "Dark Wolverine" artist Stephen Segovia.
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
The problem I’ve always had with these cosmic-level-(but)-down-to-Earth stories, about aliens more powerful than ever thought possible finding some reason to adopt our planet, ‘protecting’ the unfortunate upon whom tyranny is almost certainly running amok, and then attempt to humanize the main character despite his/her/its other-worldliness is my own inability to suspend my disbelief THAT far. “Superman” works because it’s as much about what happens when that kind of a character is raised as we are, brought up to love baseball, apple pie, and girls with first and last names that start with the letter ‘L’ as it is about beating up Brainiac, or stopping bullets with your rippled chest muscles. “Silver Surfer” is, at its core, about a guy whose been unfortunately selected as an intergalactic harbinger of death and devastation, but sometimes he likes to fight crime, like South American drug cartels…ok.

Greg Pak has worked MAGIC on some of the more under-appreciated character in the Marvel roster. He single-handedly revitalized the Hulk; along with Fred VanLente, he brought the character of Hercules into the mainstream; now he seeks to take on one of the more challenging tasks in his career at Marvel. After humanizing a monster and a god, can Pak make people relate to a silver-skinned alien who works for the devourer of worlds?! I’m leaning toward ‘No’ but I’ve already admitted my bias, I’ve always had a very hard time getting into stories about alien characters. Sure, there’re exceptions, but for the most part I like to read about PEOPLE, not things.

The Silver Surfer is hanging out on Earth during some down-time, he often finds himself longing to connect with the world he’s helped rescue a dozen times over. It’s during this monologue that a group of high-tech soldiers slaughter some ‘innocent’ people who simple wished to abscond with large amounts of illegal narcotics. Surfer interferes, pulls a little cosmic magic and resurrects one of the soldier’s victims, so I guess that makes him an accomplice, right? The soldiers aren’t much of a match for the Surfer, but luckily there’s a young psi-op formerly known as Cybermancer to meet and greet, trying to communicate to everyone that there is no real conflict here. The High Evolutionary shows up, and then things just get weird.

It’s a short issue in terms of story. Readers are treated to a bit of Surfer’s history, then it’s on with the show, but since the series is five issues long, there’s little more than a round of introductions and then it’s over. I love to try new stuff out, I talk about it all the time in my column, but I just couldn’t get past my prejudices with this title. I’ve even adored Pak’s work in the past, and I can SEE what he wants to do, unfortunately it just didn’t connect with this fan. Segovia is a great artist, sort of Lenil Yu-lite, and if that’s you’re thing, cool. I’d have preferred a more classic approach to this title, if anything; maybe Alan Davis was busy? Too bad.
  SOULFIRE VOL 3 #0
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Jason Fabok
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Aspen Comics   Shipped On: 030911
MSRP: $2.50 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
ASPEN'S SYNOPSIS:
The magic has returned! But, this time...the light has grown dark. Desperate times have fallen on our heroes Malikai, Grace, and friends. The once-strong bond between them, which forged the return of magic into our world, is deteriorating following the cataclysmic battle with Rainier and his forces. However, the struggle between magic and technology still wages on, yet with Malikai, the bearer of the light, nowhere to be found--can magic survive the latest onslaught from an unwelcome world?
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
Didn’t I just, just, JUST review a ‘Zero’ issue of “Soulfire”…yeah, I did, didn’t I? SO, why am I back at it, once again checking out a preview issue of a book that’s been around for the better part of, well, a long time…probably because the publishers feel the need to repackage the series at the end of every ****ing story arc, thus cementing the likelihood that more people are tempted to give it a chance because of that big, bold numero Uno, or zero, or whatever. I understand the marketing behind the decision, but ultimately I feel as if THAT is the strategy you’re going to use at least try and change things up a bit.

So the fairy-princess lady and her people are up to some sort of shenanigans, chasing some guy through the woods, though they’d have the reader believe it was for his own good. Some creepy thing is introduced, then rubbed out, then some vague $#!t is spouted about extinguishing evil at its source, blah blah blah. It’s only a preview issue, which I guess is meant more to confuse readers into buying the following issue rather than entice them into finding the characters fascinating and actually wanting to follow their exploits. Oh, and this is all before we get to the great white hope of “Soulfire”, the young man supposedly responsible for ushering magic back into the modern world, or some such nonsense. Ignoble men attempt to victimize our young hero, he makes short work of them using magic; hardly seems fair, does it?

IF ever there was a reason to bear this sort of maligned pish-posh of mediocrity, it would be Jason Fabok. His pencils, compared to what I’ve seen on “Soulfire”, are some of the most invigorating. It’s a truly spectacular achievement to walk in the footsteps of Michael Turner, carrying yourself and your work with such air of confidence. It doesn’t hurt that the guy’s style is most reminiscent of David Finch, a mentor and friend to Fabok; he even has the same issues with everyone’s faces looking alike! I’m sure that it won’t be long before one of the big two scoops this guy up, but it’s nice to see some real artistic achievement back in the pages of “Soulfire”, a book that’s visually floundered since its creator’s passing. I’m not a fan of the constant rebooting, nor of the mythology the book has worked so hard to try and establish, but I am a fan of good looking books; at least it has THAT going for it.
  HELLRAISER #1
Writers: Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: BOOM! Comics   Shipped On: 032311
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
BOOM'S SYNOPSIS:
One of the greatest horror franchises of all time returns, now under the control of its original creator! Clive Barker has touched Hellraiser only twice: once to write The Hellbound Heart, and once more to write and direct the original Hellraiser film. Now witness Barker's long-awaited return to tell a new chapter in the series' official continuity, a trajectory that will forever change the Cenobites, the final Pinhead story! Prepare your soul for an epic journey into horror from one of the medium's greatest voices, and starring one of the medium's greatest characters, in an unforgettable new chapter of the Hellraiser.
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
For the uninitiated, such as myself, aside from being a painfully unimaginative series of horror films usually run after late night soft-core pornography on Skinemax, “Hellraiser” just so happens to be the brainchild of ‘Master of Horror’ Clive Barker, based on a short story he wrote, entitled “The Hellbound Heart”. While it was originally hailed as a masterful use of terrifying imagery, the series of films that spun out of the book, the first of which was helmed by Barker no less, became more and more about the gore-factor and less and less about the tortured characters that Clive created. Boom!Studios, never ones to pass up a licensing opportunity has even managed to wrangle Mr. Barker back behind the keyboard once again, bringing the originator’s insight to the table, which should serve as a sign to longtime fans of the series that a return to horror-greatness is once more upon them…right?

I don’t necessarily ‘Get’ “Hellraiser”. I’m not a very religious guy, and therefore my views on Heaven/Hell are pretty much nil, therefore all the scary ‘hell-bound’ imagery that’s supposed to have some sort of horrifying effect is a moot point in this readers eyes. I get the point of it: Hell is a scary, gross place to end up. Or to sum it up Tyra Banks-style: Don’t. Go. THERE! What I don’t understand at all about the story, and I’m sure it’ll all be cleared up, or maybe not, but what is with the guy on the farm that is doing all sorts of horrible $#!t to some lady in the name of the dark denizens of Hell? Why are supposed Lords of Darkness (or whatever) bound to some corn field in the middle of effin’ no where? Sure, the Earth-bound connection to a scary twisted place such as ‘Hell’ is creepy, no doubt, but it’s a bit far-fetched and this issue doesn’t work to flesh anything out.

I mean, the first issue of any comic book is really a fruitless endeavor with the long-form storytelling devices that are employed by creators today. Since the whole point seems to be selling the audience a ‘collected edition’, single issues seem to be yesterday’s news. Now, say I was someone who didn’t own a computer (a rarity, I know) and I’d never come into contact with “Hellraiser” before seeing THIS issue on a comic store shelf…I don’t think that THIS issue is ENOUGH to sell a newcomer on the comic and its concept. I’d like to think that, because this already has some kind of built-in audience, even if I’m not a part of it, it may lead to future series that are bit more new-reader friendly. Maybe I’m missing the point; I sometimes feel as if the whole idea behind ‘licensed properties’ is one of exclusivity, which is the exact kind of mind-set that has sent our medium down such a slippery slope, teetering on the edge of oblivion.

The book is a full-size issue with a 16-page preview of another “Hellraiser: Something-or-Other” title, this second story written by Larry Wachowski. As much as I didn’t care for the first story, the second story was illustrated in a classic horror-comic style that did make me smile, if only for a bit. Another overdose on the dramatic, which I guess goes hand in hand with the theatrical, S&M nature of the whole thing; romanticizing the horrifying by way of gory eye-candy for the disturbed. I’m not into it, and maybe I have some sort of predisposed bias, an unwavering lack of interest in this sort of thing, but I gave it a shot and it didn’t leap out of the void and drag me into its story.
  FF #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Marvel Comics   Shipped On: 032311
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MARVEL'S SYNOPSIS:
It's the FANTASTIC first issue of FF! A bold new direction for Marvel's First Family featuring new members, old friends, older enemies and uneasy alliances that will send shockwaves through the Marvel Universe. With stunning art work by Steve Epting and Paul Mounts, please join writer, Jonathan Hickman, on the second massive arc in the bold new direction for the 'World's Greatest Comic Magazine.'
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
The idea of ‘family’ is one that is always on the fringe in comics, usually presented as an obstacle a hero must overcome by maintaining his or her secret identity, or a crutch for a character’s more misguided or villainous actions. Rarely is the idea of ‘The Family’ at the forefront of a book’s spirit, and nowhere is it more present than in the pages of Marvel’s recently cancelled “Fantastic Four”. Okay, it was only cancelled in order to be restarted with a stream-lined title, an additional character, and a new mission-statement: “Welcome to the Future Foundation.”

I said that the final issue of “Fantastic Four” was ‘the most perfect comic reading experience I’ve had in a long, long time’. I’d like to follow that up by saying that “FF”#1 is a close second, and thusly if I was only capable of reading one book for the rest of my days, it’d be Hickman’s “FF” in any of it’s variations, without a doubt. Never have I been so juiced to be a fan of Marvel’s First Family, and I’m talking a life-time of fandom here. It was probably one of the first comic books I’ve EVER read, so it’s always had a soft spot in my heart, but it’s never really blown my mind as it does in Hickman’s hands. If anyone is in position to usurp Mark Waid as one of the Family’s most prolific scribes, it’s this guy.

By turning the super-heroics on its ear, and focusing on the dynamic of ‘family’, any and all interesting takes on it, whether it be Husband/Wife, Sister/Brother, Father/Son, Mother/Child, Friends/Family…Hell, even Doom fits in there somewhere and it doesn’t FEEL forced, Hickman has rejuvenated a book that for too long lagged in sales behind books that offered more “Whiz-BANG-Ka-POW!”. There are hundreds of super-powered teams out there attempting to make the world a better place, when the time calls for it; it’s interesting to see a team that’s proactively working through research and applied sciences, by way of children of all kinds no less, to make the world a more perfect place all the time.

Sure, the addition of Spider-Man to the book’s roster is going to rattle a few cages, but Hickman almost challenges the reader to handle it any way OTHER than respecting it. Besides, it’s such a natural fit; the FF were guest-stars in the first issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man”. He has as much history with THIS team as he does with the Avengers, where the character is flourishing if you ask me. He’s a scientist, he was a teacher, “…and Spider-Man is, after all, like the second-best superhero, ever.” I’ll leave first-bests up to you.

I’m enthralled with the team’s new direction; I’m loving the art as much as humanly possible without trying to do anything I’ll have to inform a therapist about; I really think that, almost without my knowing it, this book has crept up my reading list each week until it’s found its rightful place at the top. If this book isn’t Marvel’s top selling title, which I’m clearly aware that it isn’t, it’s because not enough fans out there love the big-idea books as much as they do the ‘Whiz-BANG-Ka-POW!!!’ It’s a little bit sad really to see a book maligned with sagging sales when you know it’s got EVERYTHING people need to be exposed to in order to recognize what makes this medium so great, and it’s disheartening to know that defining runs can be over-looked in favor of six or seven titles featuring the same main-characters that dominate so many peoples’ pull lists.
  UNCANNY X-FORCE #5 POINT ONE
Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Marvel Comics   Shipped On: 031611
MSRP: $2.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MARVEL'S SYNOPSIS:
START READING with this Point One issue. When a situation calls for hard choices, the X-Force is there to step in. Lady Deathstrike, with the deadly Reavers at her side, set out to destroy the X-Men in their home! Deathstrike will obliterate the X-Men or die trying, and this new Uncanny X-Force is more than happy to oblige. As the line between right and wrong become more and more blurred, will the Uncanny X-Force be heralded as heroes...or villains?
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
Okay, THIS is starting to really get to me. Just recently I was more than excited to embark upon a glorious NEW journey with the Uncanny X-Force crew. They had just wrapped the “Apocalypse Solution” arc, which was extremely enjoyable, and “Deathlok Nation”, featuring art chores by Esad Ribic(!!!), was looking like it was geared directly for me(!). Then came the unexpected “Uncanny X-Force” #5.1, and I was all like “HUH?!” As my new adventure had only just begun, where was this Point-One issue coming from, and WHY was it shoehorned into this new story? WHY?!

Rafael Albuequerque’s name on the cover was certainly a surprise. With his series over at DC’s Vertigo imprint doing as splendidly as it currently is, I thought that Marvel’s Distinguished Competition would have locked him into some sort of ‘exclusive’ deal, alas this is not so. DC’s apparent misstep is Marvel’s gain, if not only temporarily, and despite my grumblings about interrupting a brand new story arc for what is essentially a done-in-one (non-)annual, it was a lot of fun to see him render the likes of X-Force, the Reavers, Lady Deathstrike, and if only briefly, Cyclops and Magneto. I can be pissed that this wasn’t issue 4.1, because that would have made more sense, but I can’t knock Albuquerque’s amazing abilities and all that he brings to the table, that’s for sure.

Oh yeah, X-Force versus the Reavers! Right. Okay, so X-Force takes on the Reavers, who have some sort of plan to manipulate the Aboriginal mutant, Gateway, into teleporting them into the heart of Utopia. Once inside its borders the Reavers would be able to begin a bloody coup, one with a goal of extinguishing as many mutant lives as possible. This, of course, X-Force can’t stand for, so they begin with the cutting and the killing, and before you know it we’ve been introduced to the darker side of a character beloved by so many for so long. Oh Betsy, how we barely knew ye, and now you’re all slash-happy and sadistic. That’s hot.

I may not find the Marvel Point-One Initiative to have much of, well, a point. A cleverly disguised ‘Annual’ is still just that, an ‘Annual’. But here Marvel has bucked tradition, and instead of placing no-name new comers on the book they’re giving readers top-tier would-be all-stars; ya gotta love that, bub. No seriously, what better way to get people to accept what COULD be construed a throw-away issue than to beef-up the guest-list? If I had known that this was going to be slipped under-the-radar into the midst of a brand new arc, I probably would have skipped it altogether, based solely on my misguided sense of ‘principle’. That is to say, IF I had decided to skip this book based on my ‘principles’ I only would have UNTIL I saw Remender’s and Albuequerque’s names branded on the cover. Marvel marketing probably KNEW this, and as such, nipped it in the bud before I even had a chance. Kudos, gentlemen (and ladies!), I would have the wool pulled over my eyes for nothing less than, well, Excelsior!
  XOMBI #1
Writer: John Rozum
Artist: Fraser Irving
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: DC Comics   Shipped On: 031611
MSRP: $2.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
DC'S SYNOPSIS:
You can't keep a good XOMBI down! The immortal David Kim - kept "alive" by nanotech enhancements - returns to the DC Universe in a new ongoing series! Creator John Rozum and hot BATMAN AND ROBIN artist Frazer Irving team up to deliver the finest in contemporary urban horror - with a Super Hero twist! As an undying, unchanging Xombi, David Kim must watch the world consume itself and burn while humanity grows more distant from each other due to the rise of technology. What would a Xombi do just to feel change again? And where will he ever be able to find a kindred soul?
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
I dove into this series rather blindly. It’s not something a great many fans like to do, but with DC ‘Holding the line at $2.99!’ I figured that I owed it to the company to give some new books a shot. I mean, one hand washes the other, right? They’ve essentially saved me almost ten bucks by shaving a dollar off each of their titles, so why not pay it forward and give something different a shot? Even if I don’t like it, I’m still up $7, right? Right!

What a splendid divergence from the traditional, the safe, the oft-tread ground of super-heroism. “Xombi” is a bit of a departure from the norm, and by ‘a bit of a departure’ I mean to say that this book is balls to the wall insane in such a delightfully scary way. There’s pseudo-science, religion, MURDER, a good deal of rather mysterious happenings, and MORE MURDER! This is what happens when creators are given a good deal of room to breathe, to CREATE, and all this madness isn’t even shunted off to the “Vertigo” side of the DCU, but rather safely placed under the umbrella of regular continuity. I think I’ve found my new favorite DC series.

“Xombi” is the apparent creation of Dwayne McDuffie from his Milestone Media days. With his unfortunate passing, certainly a loss for the industry as a whole, his creation has been handed to John Rozum, who worked on the character with McDuffie previously. I’m pleased to say that despite my lack of ANY knowledge whatsoever of the previous incarnations of “Xombi”, one can, with relative ease, pick this book up and immerse oneself in an entirely NEW concept (‘New’ as far as I’m concerned!). A concept that involves resurrected scientists, size-shifting nuns, killer snow angels, semi-colon cancer, and a boat-load of other BIG ideas is a beautiful, memorable thing, one we don’t see nearly enough of in this industry lately.

Fraser Irving’s style is one that really brings to life the strange, the weird, the unforgettable. His work with Grant Morrison not withstanding, I think this is exactly the type of book this guy belongs on. His imagination, not to mention his storytelling ability, is exactly the kick in the pants a book like this NEEDS to get off the ground. His pencils are a shot in the arm, bringing to life a world I’d never explored in such a lush and vivid way; I truly doubt that this story would have had the very same impact it did if anyone else was in charge of art chores. I can only HOPE that Irving sticks around beyond the initial arc, or if he departs so quickly that they replace him with an artist of similar ilk. I guess only time will tell…
  FEAR ITSELF BOOK OF THE SKULL
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Scott Eaton
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Marvel Comics   Shipped On: 031611
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MARVEL'S SYNOPSIS:
All the Red Skull's terrible secrets and plans are in the hands of his evil?daughter, Sin, who's intent on outdoing her father... Now find out about the Skull's most-dangerous World War II mission, that he risked everything for...and how it's going to tear the Marvel Universe apart today. FEAR ITSELF starts here...in the darkest secrets of the past!
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
Another summer is upon us and after a year of smaller, family-based ‘events’ Marvel Comics is ready to roll out their latest big-summer blockbuster, “Fear Itself” by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen. As such, with little more than a month to kill time before the 8-parter kicks off, here’s a ‘prologue’ written by Fraction’s long-time collaborator, Ed Brubaker, but does it ultimately MATTER? One can’t be too sure these days. I mean, is it the latest comic-summer-blockbuster, or is it little more than a multi-media tie-in to TWO of the coming year’s most anticipated film adaptations?

Using a rather heavy-handed plot device, the interwoven flashback, Brubaker and Eaton relay to readers unfamiliar with Bru’s “Captain America” a bit o’the old “Here’s what’s happened, and why!” In this case readers are caught up to speed on Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, now very much a chip off the old block in more ways than one. Sin is in the process of tracking down some stuff of her father’s that rightfully belongs to her after his passing, if it just so happens to be an ages-old book bound in the blue flesh of Atlanteans, so what? This is all spliced with a flashback story dating back to WWII in which Cap, Bucky, and Namor all attempt to take the Skull out. It almost works, but it ultimately falls short of enticing, in my opinion, and that’s the whole point, right?

Back in 1942, Captain America and his partner, Bucky, join forces with Namor the Sub-Mariner to take out a faction of Red Skull’s Third Reich forces. These forces of Nazi-badism are attempting to perform some sort of religious sacrifice with hopes of gaining the upper-hand in the world wide conflict. What they want and what they receive are drastically different things, and because they may not be ‘Worthy’ the gift bestowed upon them is left where it lands, and a fortress of some sort is erected to protect it. What am I babbling on about? A hammer, of sorts, much like that of the mighty Thor’s, lands in the middle of the ice and snow, but no one can budge it. Is this the weapon the Nazi’s had hoped would turn the tide in their favor, or is this a gift for a later generation? Sin seems to believe the latter.

Scott Eaton is a tremendous artist, and his talents do NOT go to waste here. This book is gorgeously illustrated, if nothing else. As far as baiting readers into jumping into the “Fear Itself” storyline, well, I think they could have done more. Maybe the focus on the events of 1942 is where they went wrong, as the scenes with Sin were where my attention was most rapt. I get that they have to tow a certain line between promoting their books while at the same time attempting to woo new readership from the film adaptations, but this just seems a bit too over the top. It doesn’t really provide ANY insight as to WHY the “Fear Itself” story is a MUST-READ, and while it does shed a tiny bit of light onto the villainous Sin, it does so to such a minute degree that it left me wishing the focus of the book was squarely on her shoulders rather than those of the blonde boy-scout, Captain America.

I’m not saying that I won’t give “Fear Itself” a fair shot, as I most certainly will, but I think that a more focused effort here would have been a lynch-pin that solidified my interest. Instead, I feel as though this is, at best, a filler issue with little to offer readers that are on the fence about the event. Eaton is marvelous; Brubaker is a talent whose most spectacular efforts come from his isolation from these kinds of world-spanning event comics. It’s great that Marvel wanted to provide us with some kind of insight as to the ‘Why’ of it all, but isn’t that what the main eight-issue series is supposed to do. Instead of juicing us for another four bucks, while providing ‘previews’ in EVERY issue of EVERY comic leading up to the event, why not let the story stand on its own? I just don’t get it. Fraction is an accomplished story-teller, I’m sure his book will be good without beating readers over the head with add-on material.
  BATMAN #708
Writer: David Hine
Artist: Guillem March
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: DC Comics   Shipped On: 031611
MSRP: $2.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
DC'S SYNOPSIS:
Batman uncovers just how deep the Falcone Crime Family has penetrated the inner (and outer) workings of Gotham City, while Kitrina Falcone - a.k.a. Catgirl - is tempted to take over the family business. When she finds herself in hot water, she'll need Batman's help or all of her nine lives may run out.
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
It should be said right off the bat that Guillem March MAKES this book. His art is both new in its approach, and yet decidedly old-school in its FEEL. While I didn’t find the story to be entirely enjoyable, it was a thrill to turn each page and marvel in the detailed artwork that adorned them. Alright, now that THAT is out of the way, I don’t think this is a very good book, but thankfully it’s only a one-off, an opening shot in a story that’s going to span three titles, not simply this one. Hopefully Tony Daniel is back next month with a bit more down to Earth stories about Dick Grayson, instead of the out-of-this-world adventures co-starring the failed Azrael.

It’s true, it’s true, “Azrael” is/was/will be cancelled, so they’ve shunted him off to guest-star status, which in turn relegates some title or another with the burden carrying the character and his religious-themed adventures for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately the first in what will be a series of series forced to share the spotlight is “Batman”, a book that I’ve been enjoying since the return of Bruce Wayne, considering it continues to focus on Gotham’s NEWEST Batman, Dick Grayson. At a time when the bat-books are at a creative HIGH, it’s more than unfortunate that we’ve hit a speed bump on the road to big-summer storytelling.

Dick doesn’t like Azrael. Azrael doesn’t like anybody. Some weird guy with a cross burned onto his face, in place of a nose, believes himself to be on a mission from God, and not in that cool, funny “Blues Brothers” sort of way. The hoity-toity and heavy handed religious overtones are unwelcome, in this reader’s opinion. Attempting to justify the psychotic actions of one zealot or another by way of religion, well, that was what “Azrael” was for, and it’s cancelled; see how popular THAT frame of mind is? I can’t imagine editorial thinking, immediately after canceling one underperforming series, that it was a good idea to force the character onto readers via “Batman”, I just can’t.

Over all, I’m still a Batman fan, particularly at a time when Grant Morrison has launched the character in such an exciting direction. The ability to read about different Batmen and their individual responses to threats of all sorts is exciting, but when one book becomes a platform for which an underselling character is inexplicably crammed into, well, my reading experience hits a wall. It’s not that I’m against these kinds of stories, but rather I’m against any type of story that focuses on the gimmicks rather than the plot. This, thankfully, isn’t continued in the pages of “Batman” but rather “Red Robin”, and ultimately some other series for part three, but one must seriously ask one’s self, “Why’d they even bother?!”
  SAVAGE BEAUTY #1
Writer: Mike Bullock
Artist: Jose Massaroli
Reviewer: "Sweet" Dan Sweet
Publisher: Moonstone Comics   Shipped On: 030911
MSRP: $3.99 each (15% OFF during it's 1st Week of release only at Alternate Reality!)
MOONSTONE'S SYNOPSIS:
Mike Bullock (The Phantom) presents a fresh new spin on the jungle girl genre, featuring real world conflicts in Africa and beyond. Join the Rae sisters, recent UCLA grads, as they travel the world defending the defenseless. Guided by the mysterious Mr. Eden, they assume the identity of a mythical goddess and reveal their Savage Beauty. This over-sized premiere issue also includes a Golden Age Sheena reprint, a look back at Jungle Girls with Michael "Robot 6" May and "lost art" from the proposed 1960 Raquel Welch/Sheena movie! Covers by Thomas Yeates and Dave Hoover.
SWEET DAN'S REVIEW:
At first glance I thought that I was going to get something ‘different’ from “Savage Beauty”. Sure, I assumed it would be a Jungle-Girl comic, very much in the spirit of “Shanna”, “Sheena”, or something like “Tarzan” or “George of the Jungle”, but with breasts. What I really didn’t expect is that the writer(s) would have one, even bigger twist up his/their sleeve, one that is bound to shock, but not necessarily satisfy readers. I know it didn’t satisfy me.

Like any good exploitation story there’s a fair amount of violence and forced sexual situations, neither too graphic, almost everything implied off-panel. I figured that a classy move, considering the goal is to lure new female readership with strong female role-models, not so much to attract the shifty-eyed basement dwellers, too shy to buy suitable stroking material. Cheesecake comics often present similar scenarios as a means to an end, that end being gratuitous nudity or graphic sexual situations; “Savage Beauty” throws all the harsh realities at the reader without being overbearing or in-your-face about it, and it all quickly ends as soon as our heroine arrives on the scene.

I don’t want to give away the book’s secret, which is a ballsy gamble if you ask me, but I would like to get into some of the inanity that precedes the gambit. Two college-age, young ladies are on safari in Africa, on assignment for a magazine called “African Adventures” (A title that certainly couldn’t exist in today’s PeeCee, coffee-shop/bookstore market place, I assure you; There’d be marches.) – These two are, for the most part, presented as typical college kids; they flirt, drink, have annoying cell-phone ring tones, and hate it when mean animals eat the cute & cuddly ones. That is, they’re presented as typical college kids until they receive a call from someone or something called ‘Eden’, then everything is turned on its ear.

There’s a certain competence to the art; Jose Massaroli obviously knows how to tell a story…where he stumbles, in my opinion, is in the heavy inks that he applies himself. I’d much rather have seen what his art would have looked like finished by a different eye, one that was not his own. The first few pages were some of the best of the book, but not long into the story things start to look blotchy and heavy handed. A capable story-teller, sure, but the finishes should’ve been done by someone with a better eye for that sort of thing.

All Books/Characters pictured herein are © Copyright 2011 by their respective owners. No rights given or implied by Alternate Reality, Incorporated.

Reviews © 2011 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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