So, it’s September. The fifth of September to be exact, as I am writing this. It’s Wednesday, which means new titles hit the shelves today. If you’re wondering how it could’ve been a whole year since DC launched the New 52 already, then just remember this: it is one-hundred and ten days until Christmas. My point? Time goes fast. Point in case, it is now Thursday morning!
This week, I was spoiled for choice from the books that hit my desk* (NB: When I say “hit my desk”, what I really mean is that they arrived in amongst a fifty-two box delivery that I helped carry into the shop. I then fished said titles out of a bunch of Diamond boxes after the end of my shift. “Hit my desk” sounds more glamorous though, right?). Anyway, my point is, it’s a good week to be a comic fan. Happy reading.
Action Comics: Superman #0
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Ben Oliver
Grant Morrison recently announced plans to step back from superhero monthlies, finishing his second run of ‘Batman Incorporated’ after issue twelve and leaving ‘Action Comics: Superman’ after issue sixteen. While Morrison doesn’t intend to step away from comics entirely, it’s a safe bet that you won’t see his name gracing the pages of your favourite DC titles for a long time. However, he has stuck around long enough to provide #0 – an eagerly anticipated prequel to his Action Comics run.
We see a notably scruffy-looking Clark Kent land his first job at The Daily Planet, move into his own apartment and indulge in a typically adolescent love for gaming. After all, this is Superman in the 21st Century. Kent wistfully talks of fellow Daily Planet-writer, Lois Lane, confiding to his gaming companion that her writing is “like watching a martial arts display”. Uh, deep. However, our scruffy, would-be journalist doesn’t remain the focus of the story for long – quickly switching to a gang of criminals atop the roof of a multi-storey building, who are about to be intercepted.
Unphased by bullets but, um, slightly winded by a R.P.G, Superman takes a tumble and plummets off the top of the building ground. Apparently unmoving when he hits the ground, a young bystander seizes the opportunity… and steals Superman’s cape. While editors at the Daily Planet believe Superman to be a product of elaborate Photoshop, the young cape-thief uses his newly acquired garment to protect himself and run away from an abusive home life. Meanwhile, Lois reveals a mutual appreciation for Kent’s writing after reading his – wait for this – blog. I’m not sure how I feel about Superman having a blog but I guess this is the 21st Century and I am writing in 2012. For a blog.
Back to the kid cape thief: his troubled home life has caught up with him, in the depth of a dingy train station. Caught between a knife-wielding guardian and a train, there is little time to weigh up the strength of Superman’s cape and that of a speeding train. But what’s that? Superman shows up in the nick of time to bring the train to a grinding halt, save the little boy and reunite with his ultimate accessory. The boy offers the cape back, claiming meekly, “I only borrowed it”.
While the best of Action Comics will continue to shine in Morrison’s remaining issues, this issue is exactly what it’s supposed to be: the background to a story that has already been told. It doesn’t turn over any stones, but it does its job. A good #0.
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #3(/4)
Writer: Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner
Artist: Amanda Conner
Silk Spectre is almost an afterthought to Laurie Jupiter. Combined with her infatuating love for boyfriend, Greg, and her new-found penchant for acid trips – her alter-ego falls by the wayside; unbeknown to almost everyone, only coming out at nights not spent at a house party or in bed with her boyfriend.
This book begins with a particularly whirlwind trip, where Laurie’s brain whirs at a mile a minute. Niggling worries and irrational fears are hallucinated and brought to life before her eyes, bringing her from happy-go-lucky to nervous wreck in sixty seconds. She daydreams of her lover (find another word for boyfriend that doesn’t sound like it belongs in a Jackie Collins novel, I dare you) in every colour of the rainbow and hears her mother’s anger and disapproval ringing in her ears.
Not far from the truth, at home, Laurie’s mother is frantic. Tired of waiting for her daughter to come home and dissatisfied by the letter Laurie sent home to reassure her family – she decides that it’s time to take matters into her own hands. Out of sheer desperation, she recruits a familiar (yet unfriendly) face to help out.
After returning to Earth – in this instance, I am talking figuratively – Laurie awakes to find herself back in touch with reality. Shocked to find a group her peers lying naked in her apartment, she chooses to ignore the previous night’s events and climb back into bed with Greg. Instead she finds him passed out, blue-faced and in a pool of his own vomit. Terrified, she rushes him to hospital and stays by his bedside until he regains consciousness. Fearing the worst, a teary-eyed Laurie reveals her secret identity – admitting that she sneaks off at nights to assume the role of Silk Spectre. Greg wakes up, jokingly offering to be her sidekick.
With hospital visiting visiting hours over, Laurie sets her sights on the drug dealer responsible for Greg’s bad reaction. The subject of her uneasiness during her own acid trip, she decides to confront him – after going out of her way to purchase a new pair of boots, obviously. Angry and fuelled by her love for Greg, she storms the dealers’ ‘private party’ with a fierce warning. Meanwhile, Greg finds himself on the receiving end of a warning of his own – courtesy of a not-quite friend of Laurie’s mother.
For me, this book is a joy to read. Amanda Conner’s art is a particular highlight, but it would be difficult to fault her collaboration with Darwyn Cooke on the script. I like the idea of Silk Spectre taking a backseat in Laurie Jupiter’s life, slowly becoming more prominent with every issue as she grows into her identity. Her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, combined with her overwhelming feelings of love for Greg, form a defiant young woman – fighting to find herself, but on her terms. The characterisation is spot on, which makes it the most engaging ‘Before Watchmen’ title of the whole set. I’ll be sad to see this one end.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
I loved the first issue of this. Loved it. It promptly popped the DC bubble that I’m prone to ambling about in and ignited some Marvel-related excitement.
As the book itself is quick to point out, this is not an Avengers title. This is Hawkeye when he’s not being an Avenger, living in New York City and still findings ways to put his exceptional arrow-shooting skills to good use. While he probably doesn’t live in a purple haze, his story is narrated as such; the minimalist and unusual colouring was probably what caught my eye the most. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t look like a typical Marvel comic.
Clint Barton, that’s Hawkeye, is not your Average Joe. While he dwells in a NYC apartment and befriends an enamouring brunette named Kate, his lack of day job doesn’t leave as many free hours in the day as you’d suspect. As it turns out, Kate is pretty handy with weaponry too – with Clint as her boss, she joins him in throwing herself in the middle of dangerous situations and taking out criminals. All in a day’s work.
In this book, Clint and Kate set out to foil a scam by a group of French criminals who masquerade as a travelling circus. Unravelling an elaborate plan that sees criminals steal from other bad guys, the pair place themselves in immediate danger. When Clint is captured, it is up to Kate’s quick-thinking to save him. Donning a convincing disguise, her rescue attempts proves successful and consequently puts Hawkeye to shame.
David Aja’s cartoon-style art is a particular selling point for this book. I’ve touched on the unusual choice of colour-scheme already, which plays alongside the drawing to create an almost pop-art feel to the book. The phasing-out of panels out in black and white to introduce a new character or explain a situation is a cinematic technique which works well here to carry the plot.
Clint and Kate’s chemistry fails to go unnoticed too. They engage in friendly, verging on flirtatious banter and compliment each other well when going up a gang of French criminals. Back at their respective apartments, talking on the phone and Clint is certainly every inch the Average Joe: in other words, totally clueless.
‘Hawkeye’ is quick-witted and a world away from what you’d expect from a typical Avengers title. But you were warned that this isn’t an Avengers title. This is Hawkeye when he’s not being an Avenger. It turns out, that’s a pretty great story all of its own.
Manhattan Project – Volume One
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
“What if the research and development department created to produce the first atomic bomb was a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs? What if the union of a generation’s brightest minds was not a signal for optimism, but foreboding? What if everything… went wrong?”
This was the statement displayed on the front cover of #1 of ‘The Manhattan Projects’, as well as the subsequent issues that followed. Taking its name from the World War II initiative, ‘The Manhattan Projects’ is a sinister re-telling of secret military projects in an alternate reality. Borrowing its premise from history, Jonathan Hickman reshapes famous characters from history for his latest original story.
You do not have to be a history buff to enjoy this book. History fans will appreciate the research that has gone into it, however the addition of aliens and alcoholic government officials will soon banish any real concerns of alternate historical accuracy. Some of the characters will seem familiar; General Leslie Groves who oversaw the Manhattan Project and, of course, Albert Einstein. Regardless of your background knowledge, you’ll still feel as if you have a handle on the story – without feeling like you’ve just been given a history lesson.
Jonathan Hickman’s story-telling is truly great. While you could argue that these historical figures were already eccentric personalities, Hickman’s characterisation brings them to life in new and ridiculous ways; Professor Oppenheimer being the stand-out in my mind as the most ruthless and unpredictable character, as well as the one that creeps me out the most.
The pacing of the book varies, but the overall tone suggests that it’s winding up to one explosive climax. We go from cloning the DNA of dead scientists to time portals to Kamikaze attacks to alien encounters and back again. It all echoes the same message; look what science can do, look how evil it can be.
The artwork is an odd combination of cartoon-like and admirably detailed. No gory panel or grotesque detail is spared, as Nick Pitarra excels in all things extra-terrestrial. The abnormal colouring takes some getting used to but serves as a useful distinction between flash backs and . It packs a particularly stomach-churning punch when Professor Oppenheimer decides to tuck in to alien brain, in order to “consume their knowledge”.
‘The Manhattan Projects: Volume One’ compiles the first five issues of the series. If you’re unfamiliar with the story so far, use this opportunity to get acquainted. It’s my best ‘investment’ advice for comic-buying this week. There’s an original story, an engaging plot and the opportunity to catch up on what everyone’s been talking about.