4001 A.D. – Review

4001 AD

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Editor

Written by Matt Kindt with Art by Clayton Crain and David Mack

Published October 25, 2016

4001adSynopsis – in AD4001 New Japan is a floating city-state around Earth; its creator and controller ‘Father’ has banished his son Rai for rising against him. The young girl Lula infected the city with a virus meant for ‘Father’ but in order to counter it he has been jettisoning parts of the floating city to crash to earth. Can this son or Lula prevent the total destruction of the city, or will ‘Father’ rid his domain of the virus created to stop him?

Sometimes I am not sure what is worse; terrible plot dumps in-character, or a 3 page plot dump out of character. In some ways I completely understand why they need to do this, this comic is set almost 2000 years into the future so it is hard to give the reader a frame of context for what the book is about, but it almost tells me before I start reading that ‘this book is over complicated.’

Actually, I know exactly what is worse than 3 pages of out of character plot dump – 3 pages of out of character plot dump, followed by 8 pages of in character plot dump explaining exactly the same thing again. How stupid do the writers think we are exactly? The irony is that this book really is not that complicated at all and not in need of this much narration. Irrelevant of how good the book is, if you have completely annoyed your readers by the end of page 11, you have a massive hill to climb just to get level again.

And does it climb that hill! This book is stunning to look at; every page is a cinematic experience, from the futuristic cities, to the starscapes, the ruined temples to the glorious battle scenes. This is a fabulous Sci-Fi film waiting to be made and actually, that annoys me slightly as well.

As it escapes from its frankly pedestrian start, into an exciting middle, the feeling I start to get is that this is trying too hard to be a storyboard for a film, rather than a comic in its own right. I quite understand why creators would want to do that, clearly the money is all to be had in the films, with their tie in merchandising and potential sequels. But when you layout a comic in that fashion events move too fast. It only takes 2 pages to jump from the heroes leaving their abandonment on earth, to fighting their way back into the city in space, including a full on dialogue with the bad guy. To say that this comic ‘moves quickly’ is an understatement akin to saying that The Flash is faster than a snail.

Despite all of this, what I come back to is the fact that this book is gorgeous. The backgrounds are incredible, so much time has been put into every panel and there are no single-colour-background ‘cheating’ panels. Even when it pulls in for a close up, you still get everything behind the person fully drawn, rendered and slightly out of focus, just like if it were real. It adds a huge amount of depth to an otherwise shallow book. I say shallow in the kindest sense; there is clearly an attempt to create a great amount of background for the story, but if you scratch away at it, then it falls apart. There are too many clichés here – the big dumb loyal brute called Lemur who talks like he’s been hit on the head a few too many times and ultimately is there purely as a sacrificial plot device; the evil mad villain, drunk on power and willing to sacrifice millions to suit his end goal; the noble hero made to choose between his family and what is right. I feel I have seen all of this before, but perhaps that is because I am getting old and cynical.

Bizarrely the books stunning visuals are let down by the final chapter. There are still glimpses of the previous immaculate style, but entire pages are far rougher, as if someone else was drawing them; or the artist simply ran out of time. At the same time as being worse in places, it is also the most spectacular issue, with the dramatic climax and an extended epilogue showing the fall out of the events of the comic. The detail in those cityscapes are simply breath taking, but the characters become mere shells of how well drawn they were before. For a book that, for me, has won me over by its visuals, to have them decline so dramatically at the end is more than a letdown, it pretty much killed the comic for me.

Over all this is a decent, if stilted read. The art, for the most part, is about as stunning as you will find in a comic printed anywhere this decade; the plot is fair to good, but clichéd; and the characters well defined, but shallow. If you like Mecha, sci-fi or gloriously rendered comics, this is a book for you. If you want deep and meaningful stories with character arcs and witty dialogue, you would be better off with a Garfield strip.

 

Inhumanity: The Awakening #1 Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer

Inhumanity: The Awakening

Issue #1

Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Paul Davidson

Published: February 2014

Inhumanity: Awakening #1

Marvel need to make a decision about what they want to do with all these ‘kids’ they have running around jumping from limited series to limited series. They managed to put a load of them into one ongoing comic called Avengers Arena and bump a lot of them off, but they have had and cancelled so many ‘school’ books that their current set of near graduation superheroes is bursting at the seams. When you add to that the characters that are going to be springing out of Inhumanity and gathered up by Medusa, the Marvel universe is going to be taken over by kids with powers and we cannot rely on psychopaths like Arcade to thin them out all the time.

This comic comes off the back of Infinity: The Hunt where all the schools across the globe (except the Xavier School for some reason) were coming together for a competition that went horribly wrong. To be honest the initial concept of using characters from that wide pool was very sound and was ironically the original pitch for Avengers Arena according to the editors notes for that series; the problem was they did not follow on from it and the kids went off on their own for some weird Atlantian jaunt. Having survived that disaster they are back in New York and are helping to clean up the mess that was left behind, that is until Pixie points out that there is a young Inhuman posting all over the Twitter that she is about to top herself.

Every good team needs a transporter these days, even the Avengers have picked one up, so Pixie takes Quentin, Striker and Finesse way off to Connecticut to help he young Inhuman through her process. Frankly they are good team to do a ‘first contact’ with a new Inhuman; sure they are not the same race as her, but they are as mixed a grouping of superhero origins as you can get with a mutant magic girl, a omega level mutant psychic and two undefined super powered guys. This is not your standard Scott and Emma Uncanny X-Men recruiting party that is for sure.

What this comic does is try and tap into a younger vibe using social media memes throughout the comic. It does this both well and spectacularly awfully. Across the top of each page is an ongoing Twitter feed which while not adding a massive amount to the story is both tangentially informative and generally indicative of the nonsense that kids actually post on that site. Where it goes wrong is the six full pages that are done as ‘selfies’ and supposedly posted on Facebook or Beebo or whatever social media site it is that I do not use. The concept is fine and the initial page has it perfectly where she is taking pictures of herself, but then they completely ignore the fact that someone has to be taking the pictures and just start drawing them as normal comic panels. It would have been a lot more effort to keep drawing in the mirror, or her arm, or someone else taking the photos, but it would have at least made sense.

In what feels like a former life I have a degree in genetics (ok microbial genetics, but the principal is the same) and this comic has lead me to an interesting discovery. Inhuman genes are dominant not recessive. What does this mean for the comic? Well a recessive gene means that both parents need to have it in order for it to be passed on to the children, but in this case the mother is completely unaffected and thus the gene must have come from the father who is not shown. However this leads me onto a slightly sticky issue that will not have been noticed by anyone who is not a nit picking twerp like me. Research was published recently that proved that in the last millennium everyone born in Europe will be related in some way to Charlemagne* or for that matter, anyone else at that time who had descendants. The problem this poses for this comic is that as the Inhuman gene is dominant, it means that every single person on the planet with the exception of some very remote tribes, will have this gene and in fact the entire planet has no humans left. I will restrain myself from emailing Marvel with my findings at this point, but their lack of knowledge is annoying me intensely.

So, while my brain seeks to remove the couple of annoying issues with this comic and fails miserably, it is not a bad book. I like the characters they are using; in fact I wish they would do more with them and with the 10’s of other characters that they have produced over the last decade who are sitting around in the background of shots waiting to be thrust back into the spotlight again. The art is such an improvement over the last outing for these guys that it is a pleasure to read and I hope that we get more of the same next time around.

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #2 Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man

Issue #2

Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Marco Ruby

Published: January 2014

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #2

Words cannot describe how much I hated the first issue of this series. If I had to chose a comic to use as toilet paper that would have been issue #1 without question or hesitation. The singular reason why I bought issue #2 is that when you offer to do a ‘round up of all the comics relating to the 616 universe’ it is rather important to actually include all those comics. For those that do not know, on a Wednesday night I sit down with all the new comics that are even tangentially related to the main Marvel universe, read them and then write a mini review for them; then about 3am I crawl into bed ready to be up at 6am the next day.

But enough about my ridiculous home life, why is this even remotely related to this comic? Well at 2.08am (according to my twitter feed) I wrote the following ‘Comic of the week is Captain Marvel, but surprisingly art of the week goes to Marvel Knights Spider-Man. Who would have thought that?’ Now it is possible that I was suffering from intense hallucinations brought on by lack of sleep because I hated the first issue so much because the art was just awful. Actually, individual sections of the art were fine, but the only way I can describe it would be taking all four courses of a spectacular dinner, blending them in a food processor and wondering why it tasted foul. I understood what they were trying to achieve, but perhaps my lack of experimentation with class A drugs has limited my ability to appreciate that sort of art.

This book is set a few years ago, before Doc Ock took over Peter’s body, so we are dealing with the classic Parker Spider-Man in this comic. He has been drugged and kidnapped and this issue starts with him falling out of a plane. The art in this comic is still totally off the wall and there is not so much a style as the lack of style is its own form. There are traditional comic drawings, black and white line, oil painting, graphic designs, charcoal and so much more. The difference is it is all coherent, even though it is not entirely linear. The best way I can describe this is it is like watching a film and the directors commentary all at the same time, but because it is a comic and you read at your own pace you can enjoy each part in its own turn.

The entire comic takes place in the length of time it takes for Parker to beat up some of his B-List enemies who have been crammed into this plane with him for reasons unexplained. And then to fall out of it. This comic is definitely not about the story, but the intensive experience of that short period of time. The comic establishes its own themes, such as ‘Spidey Saftey.’ While he is fighting the Sandman and then Hydro, the middle of the double page becomes a set of panels akin to the sort you get by the side of a swimming pool saying ‘do not run’ and ‘no fraternizing.’ It works so well because you have Spider-Man having his butt kicked by the Sandman, while at the same time the little man on the insert is having his sand castle kicked down by a bully.

The hardest thing for me is trying to explain graphical humour. There are very little traditional jokes in this comic, a couple, but we are not talking about a book trying to compete with Deadpool. What it is however, is a really clever, well thought out, well paced and above all, beautifully crafted book. The traditional comic panels are more than good enough on their own to support a normal title, but would probably have felt a little lacking given the limited amount of actual story, but seeing them intercut with all the other ‘wacky’ art is what makes it so enjoyable.

I was having a conversation with someone a few days ago about the Infinity storyline and they were asking me where I thought was a good place to start; Issue 1 of Infinity, or perhaps issue 1 of Thanos Rising? My response; go back and read all of this volume of Avengers, New Avengers, Thanos Rising and Guardians of the Galaxy and then pick up issue 1 of Infinity. What I mean by that slightly expanded metaphor is that I am at heart a completionist and I hate not knowing a story or a character, or how an event came about. With that in mind you will probably understand why this is a quite a difficult thing for me to say: do not start this series at issue #1 it is completely not worth paying for, even if you somehow understood it. My advice; pick up this issue, you have absolutely no need for the ‘story’ in issue one, the first page of this comic tells you everything you need to know. Actually I am grateful for that first page; I learnt more from it than I did from reading the comic itself! All I can hope is that issue #3 takes after #2 and not #1, or perhaps it will shoot off at a completely different tangent all over again. One thing is certain, no matter what you think of this series, it cannot be described as boring.

Infinity: The Hunt #3 Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer

Infinity: The Hunt

Issue #3

Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Steven Sanders

Published: December 2013

The more I read this comic, the more I want the closing line from one of Thanos’ minions in the final issue to be ‘And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky kids.’ It really does feel from time to time like a Scooby Doo plot, but with less thought on the part of the ‘kids.’ The comic also feels unbelievably contrived, even more so than most normal Superhero comics. The main problem for me was one that could have been easily solved if they had written the first issue differently. Clearly the intention of the comic was to have all the kids in the same place at the same time for this competition, but for some reason they decided to insert ‘problems’ and reasons why some of the schools were not turning up – such as the fact that the Wakandans and the Atlanteans really do not get on. So, now that half of them are not in the same place as the other half, they need to find a way to get them all together. Am I the only one who thinks that they could have solved all of this by simply having them all together at the start?

All the adults are down and out, or otherwise busy, therefore all the superhero kids have been shoved into various panic/safe rooms; some of which involve them being blasted into space. Now this creates two issues; firstly at what point did they think that hiding away some of the brightest and most powerful youngsters on the planet was in anyway going to keep them safe? And secondly, at what point did half of these characters become young defenceless children that needed protecting? I mean Quentin Quire is an omega level mutant who is more than capable of looking after himself and Finesse and Striker are both effectively adults having graduated from the Avengers Academy. It is a bit of a cheat that all these characters are treated as ‘team’ members when in their own books, but suddenly here, they need protecting?

So moving on from this minor hiccup, all the ‘children’ are off in their safe rooms and all decided that enough is enough and they want some action. Hijacking escape pods, old jets and coincidentally landing right next to where the transportless Wakandans are, they all make their way towards the one place that needs their help; Atlantis. I am sorry to say that we reach our stupid Scooby Doo moment here. Remember all those times that Shaggy gets used as bait and is told to lure the monster towards Fred’s ridiculously complicated trap which always goes wrong and catches one of the gang, well here they all rush towards Atlantis with no plan and, most importantly, with almost no one who can actually breathe underwater. ‘Fortunately’ for them this is not an issue yet because there is a massive flying army waiting there to ambush them before they can even work out how to reach Atlantis.

At this point I am really struggling with this book. I really liked the concept, I want it to work, I want it to be a book that can fold in the soon to be returning survivors of Avengers Arena, but there is so much wrong with this title. The plot holes aside this book suffers from a similar issue to Battle of the Atom, there are so many characters that it is impossible to get a handle on them unless you are already intimately familiar with them. I feel the urge to keep pulling out the first issue which introduced us to all the characters, just so I can work out what some of them can do.

The real problem for me is not with the scripting, or convoluted contrived plot, but with the art. For me one of the most important parts of comic book art is precision. Each character needs to be drawn the same way from panel to panel and look defined and neat, but it just does not seem to happen in this comic. Everyone is a bit ‘wavy’ and they just look rushed. I can look at some pages and really feel what they were going for; page 9 is a perfect example and page 11 is one of the worst. Page 9 shows a beautiful underwater scene with Demona drawn well in each panel, even when from a distance with a muted colouring underwater just as it should be. Conversely page 11 has two consecutive panels with Finesse being cut and pasted between them, I mean for goodness sakes the roof just got ripped off the jet, I know you are almost emotionless, but you would at least move. And do not get me started on Strikers weirdly deformed jaw.

The last page does a lot to redeem this comic, I did not see that coming at all and it actually makes me want to buy the next issue just so I can see how they get out of this. The next one is also the final issue for the series, which is not giving them a massive amount of time to sort out what they have started here, so I expect that this is leading to something more than simply the resolution to this particular story. That is unless they just decide to kill them all, I would not object to that ending too much, other than for Quentin Quire who I feel deserves a more self-centred end. Overall, it is not actually a bad comic, just that the standard for Marvel comics has been so high recently, this feels weak by comparison. For me it is a shame as my favourite comics in recently years have been the ‘academy’ ones with the superheroes of the future in them. This just is not the future I had hoped for them.

 

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1 Review

by Dylan Duarte, CMRO Contributing Writer

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man

Issue #1

Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Marco Ruby

Published: December 2013

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man is the craziest thing I’ve read in a long time, especially the craziest Marvel thing. The issue begins with Peter
Parker showing up at a house for a family portrait gig and coming face to face with Madame Web, who warns him of his impending doom. Then it
goes absolutely insane and never lets up. It’s a wild ride.

Everything about the issue I hate just as much as I love. The artwork is a sight to behold with some truly clever and ingenious layouts that perfectly convey Peter’s confusion and sense of being overwhelmed. One page even features backwards text. While it was a bit of a pain to read, it had its effect. At the same time, though, it feels like the layouts are intentionally hard to follow. I suppose that’s better than being unintentionally hard to follow, but the result is pretty much the same. Like Peter himself, there were several moments where I didn’t understand what was going on.

Peter runs through a gauntlet of foes, which might be cool for some nostalgia if any of them appeared in any coherent manner for more than a panel or two. By the end nothing makes any more sense, with Arcade offering him a blue pill much like Morpheus did to Neo in the Matrix. There’s also a bomb that Peter has to find. Good luck with that.

I love when art successfully conveys the feeling of the protagonist in such an intense way, but if the protagonist is suffering and that’s the vibe they’re giving off, it’s not going to be pleasant. There’s some unique, clever stuff in Marvel Knights Spider-Man, but it was slightly nauseating and, at parts, felt more like work than play. It’s an experience, for sure, but it needs to be a more focused one.

Infinity: The Hunt #1 Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer

Infinity: The Hunt

Issue #1

Written by Matt Kindt, Art by Steven Sanders

Published: November 2013

There has been a proliferation of ‘school’ comics in the last ten years of Marvel. It is embedded in Marvel since the first X-Men back in 63’ that schools should play a part in the comics and that teaching younger generation was important. It always amuses me how these teens manage to grow up and become young adults, yet teachers remain in a non-defined ‘thirty-something’ to the extent that the pupils eventually catch up with them as teaching staff. It is a clever conceit because small changes over time are not noticed but looking back you notice that some characters have aged, and others have remained the same, but you do not see it happening.

Introducing new superheroes has always been a hit and miss process, for every Wolverine or Spider-Man that is thrust forward and succeeds you have hundreds of utter failures like Squirrel Girl, Jack of Hearts or Arm Fall Off Boy. Marvel appears to have found a successful way of introducing characters without worrying if any one will fail. The ‘Academy’ comics let them introduce a whole swathe of characters, throwing as much at the wall as they can possibly grasp and seeing what sticks. Sometimes it involves borrowing an existing character and giving them more time on panel, like X-23, and other times they are entirely new created purely for that comic, such as Hazmat. I fully expect in ten years time we will look back on these current school comics, barely remembering most of the characters, but pointing to them as the title that launched Marvels current ‘big thing.’

This comic was an inevitability and it has been hinted at a few times. There were link ups between the Jean Grey School and the Avengers Academy in its own comic and clearly this is the logical conclusion to those brief mentionings. It is also interesting that this is listed as a four issue limited series and that Avengers Arena is due to conclude with issue 18, which should tie them nicely together. To be honest, reading through this comic it is clear there is a definite link between them as the editor has named dropped the series twice on panel.

The comic gradually brings in the Infinity story line in a way I wish they had done in Thunderbolts last week. It is not a final page throw in to get the ‘tie in’ tag, it is a slow build up that is subtly hinted even from the third page. Hank’s big speech and ‘show and tell’ with the other Headmasters slowly goes more and more wrong as video feeds cease working and finally entire city blocks interrupt him.

I should not like this comic, it is simply a parade of characters put up by each of the academies around the world, with the notable exception of the Charles Xavier school, who will be entered into the ‘Contest of Champions.’ However it is a really well executed clever slow build up. The comic is filled with little character moments such as Quentin lusting after one of the Wakandan students and the Evolved Moloids chattering away in the background. There are also quite a few little humorous moments, of which I am not certain all were intentional. Bentley 23 really does look like he is sitting on a potty, even his facial expression is constipated. The intro panel for one of the Wakandan students reads totally wrong – BULL: Possesses the strength, agility and keen sense of….. a lion; that guy really needs to sue his publicist for mis-description. Finally ‘Blocks’ is clearly androgynous; he is standing in a vaguely feminine hands-on-hips pose, with the physique of a body builder, but unlike other male characters who are given something in the ‘trouser department’ this guy has absolutely nothing there.

To add to my general annoyance at Marvel’s release schedule this comic should have been read before New Avengers #9 or Infinity #2 because this is prior to Wolverines battles outside the Jean Grey School as he clearly has no knowledge of those events. It is frustrating that the best way to read these events is in retrospect and that Marvel do not ensure that the comics are released in a sensible reading order at the time.

I am not sure what it is that attracts me to these school comics, perhaps it is the new characters, or maybe it is that my daughter has just started school but although this is a limited series I really hope there will be a continuation from this and Avengers Academy as there are so many more stories that these new(ish) characters can tell.