July's Number Ones

The summer has put a great many new series on the stands, and I don't really want to wait for August before covering all of July's entries, so let's do a Part 1 right now. As ever, I take the bullet so you don't have to, and hopefully, these short reviews can help you decide where to spend your dollar.
Grayson by Tim Seeley, Tom King and Mikel Janin for DC. We can debate whether or not it was a good idea to kill off the Nightwing persona and spin Dick Grayson off into a superspy genre book, but I still have to say Dick has been, and continues to be, one of the most coherently characterized characters DC has ever published. From his stint as Batman through the New52 Kyle Higgins stuff to this book feels like an unbroken line. Whatever identity he takes on, he's still Dick Grayson. The set-up is pretty good, with Dick infiltrating (but also having to work for) a shadowy group called Spiral, which gets him into international intrigue and action with lots of opportunities for acrobatics. The new Helena Bertinelli (not-Huntress) is his partner, which adds sexiness for the other half of the population, and they even cover why Dick showing his face isn't an issue. I could have done without the appearance of a certain member of Stormwatch (STOP PUSHING WILDSTORM, DC!), but seeing as Spiral wants an end to the masks vigilantes hide behind, he's not likely to be the last superhero who shows up in these pages. Grayson has all the hallmarks of a self-contained story arc, so fans of Nightwing shouldn't despair; he'll be back in costume in a couple years. In the meantime, I think they'll find their same old Dick continuing his journey in the pages of this book. I know I did.
Keep reading? Yes. Nightwing was the only Batbook I was reading and despite the jarring changes, this feels like its continuation.
Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean for Keness. A barbarian fantasy book with a style that recalls Jeff Smith's Bone, though with more extreme violence, Head Lopper is strong on design and features action I'd compare to Samurai Jack's. In fact, I thought at first the book my be completely silent, before the first battle ended (the white-bearded protagonist vs. a giant sea serpent) and characters started speaking. Norgal the Head Lopper isn't an easily approachable character - stoic, really - but his actions speak louder than his words and it's all very badass. The cast will likely keep a young boy who wants to be his squire and the humanity will shine through him. For now, a well-executed action series with cool, nasty opponents and a cartoony art style I quite like.
Keep reading? Yes, it's a neat little book.
Groo vs. Conan by Sergio Aragonés, Mark Evanier and Thomas Yeates for Dark Horse. I always have a hard time engaging with Conan - and in fact, even though I read all of Brian Wood's Conan, and love all things Van Lente, I can't muster enthusiasm for Conan the Avenger - but if his chocolate isn't to collide with Groo's peanut butter (err--I mean, cheese dip), then I am ALL OVER IT, SON! Aragonés and Evanier keep things fresh in a number ways, and that's a good thing because Groo works on running gags, and those can get a little dull. For one thing, Conan and his world are rendered in a realistic style, and Groo's in Sergio's trademark cartooning. I look forward to seeing how that clash of styles works out across the four-issue mini. The more important innovation, however, is that a large portion of the comic happens in the "real world" where Sergio and Evanier send themselves up. The conceit is that the real world - and the story of a comic book shop in trouble - impacts on the imaginary one, with lots of jokes about the comic book industry thrown in. That couldn't happen in a straight Groo story (even if his straight is most people's crooked) and adds quite a lot to the humor. So in reality, there are three parties in this crossover.
Keep reading? I'll read anything with Groo in it, and this mini has a sharper bite than most.
Dark Engine by Ryan Burton and John Bivens for Image. I'm sticking to sword and sorcery here, but Dark Engine is far from a traditional genre piece. Writer Ryan Burton goes out of his way to create something dark and bizarre, where dinosaurs and demons share the stage, with more than a dash of animistic folklore thrown in. Unfortunately, John Bivens' art is at times too crazy to be understood. It's mostly pretty - if extreme gore can be considered pretty - but the action isn't always coherent, and while I appreciate the writer's wish not to hide too much of it with word balloons and captions (according to the text page), it really needed a little extra to help situate the reader, especially given how alien the world is. I'm not even sure the art is coherent as a style, and wondered if the artist was changing from page to page.
Keep reading? I like the breadth of the creative team's imagination, but they haven't sold me on this world, which needed a lot more set-up than we got.
Black Market by Frank J. Barbiere and Victor Santos for Boom! The premise is definitely interesting: A group in the business of dealing in superhuman DNA with ramifications not yet known. It's also a four-issue mini, so telling a self-contained story, and it does so achronologically, skipping back and forth in time to disclose as little information as possible and keep the mystery going. I hope I haven't spoiled it. I while I don't dislike the story per se, I'm afraid the art has distracting anatomy problems, and I expect more from an established company like Boom. I like the STYLE (as per the cover), and the layouts inventive and well thought-out, but my eye keeps going to oddly-shaped arms or asymmetrical features. Good hook and pretty good characters, but is that enough?
Keep reading? I'm on the fence, which usually means I won't, but the promise of a story done in only three more issues is attractive and may put it over the top.
Spider-Man 2099 by Peter David and Will Sliney for Marvel. I got out of Marvel Comics in 1990, just before it started proliferating into an absurd amount of X-books and lines under different various labels, Marvel UK and 2099 among them. So I've never read a single issue of a 2099 title. But I'll freely admit I've been a big Spider-Man fan since the book went weekly several years ago, and have liked pretty much each of its spin-offs, whether that's Superior itself, Superior Foes, Alpha, or to my surprise, Scarlet Spider. Only the team-up book wasn't to my taste. And since Spider-Man 2099 was reintroduced in the pages of Superior, well, here I am. Miguel O'Hara is trapped in the present, which certainly helps. The reader doesn't need a whole lot of exposition to get his or her bearings. Peter David wrote the original series and is back, so fans will be happy as well. I'd call this a strong start for the off-brand Spidey. His situation is ably recapped, the seeds of several mysteries are sown through his new supporting cast, and David's rif on Terminator is at once exciting, creepy and highly amusing. And watch that Liz Allen, she's a smart character.
Keep reading? Yes, another Spider-Man book makes my pull list. AND I now want to go back and read the original!
Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Scott Hampton for DC. Despite the title and the cover, the feature should really be called G-Zombie, or if you will, FBI Zombie. I won't dispute that DC's new undead star wasn't a soldier in a previous life, but this is hardly a war comic. Crime/horror, but not war. Nor is the cover's look indicative of Scott Hampton's interiors, which feel more like Gray Morrow's, with its brilliant penciled shading. That said, it's a pretty good comic. The setting, "Nowhere, Mississippi" is evocative and atmospheric, and Zombie's co-protagonist is a tough and sexy undercover agent. The violence is harsh and properly zombiesque, and the characters have a truth to them. I'm keen on seeing where this goes, and I'm more than a little interested in the revamp of another war comics star announced on the last page. I just hope all the mislabelling won't turn potential readers off.
Keep reading? Yes. DC seems like it's just renewing copyrights with all these anthologies, but the creative teams can do good work within those confines.

So there you have it. I'll be back next week with another 6 or 7 new books out in July. Suggestions accepted. No guarantees given.


Anonymous said...

On "Grayson", how much do you love that he uses a gun like a Batarang? They wasted no time in reassuring readers that no, they haven't forgotten what makes Dick Grayson cool.

I say Dick Grayson is the emotional heart of the DC Universe -- he's what's best about it, as someone who has willingly given his life to superheroing and is astonishingly well-adjusted for it. Kind of like how Ben Grimm is the emotional heart of the Marvel Universe, cursed by his powers but with a heart of gold.

Now that's a team-up idea, isn't it? Where's Mark Waid when you need him?

Zundian said...

I *almost* picked up GI Zombie based on it being Palmiotti/Gray, but couldn't bring myself to support a zombie book.

Groo/Conan and Spidey 2099 were wonderful starts, much agreed.

Madeley said...

"Dick has been, and continues to be, one of the most coherently characterized characters DC has ever published"

Absolutely, 100% agree with this. Not being at all a fan of Chuck Dixon's writing, I never liked Nightwing while I was growing up. In fact, he was probably my least favourite top-tier DC character. Then sometime around One Year Later he suddenly became one of my favourites, to my surprise, and now I LOVE the character, and that's entirely down to the talented teams who've been working on him from Morrison's Batman and Robin onwards.

His characterisation has been absolutely perfect, and he's the character who's benefitted the most from the rock-solid consistent thematic continuity the Bat-titles have for the most part enjoyed since OYL. With great regret I had to drop Higgins's Nightwing at the end of last year, but I fully intend to catch up now, and I will absolutely be getting Grayson.

Anon: You've absolutely nailed it, Grayson is definitely DC's Ben Grimm, in particular the way he has at least some personal connection to so many of the DCU's heroes.

Siskoid said...

Everyone loves Dick! (Yes, I'm a child.)

Z: I agree with you that it's a fad well past its prime, but there will always be exceptions (iZombie being another).

Anonymous said...

Madeley -- get the final issue of Higgins's run. Trust me, it sums up Dick Grayson very very nicely. You'll need a little backstory* to get what's going on, but overall it's Dick at his finest.

*: Here is the backstory in rot13** form: n lbhat tvey jub xabjf Avtugjvat'f frperg vqragvgl unf whfg yrnearq gung ure cneragf jrer xvyyrq ol Mfnfm, fb fur unf eha bss jvgu Avtugjvat'f rfpevzn fgvpxf gb qryvire n orng-qbja, naq Avtugjvat arrqf gb fgbc ure sebz trggvat urefrys xvyyrq.

**: Visit rot13.com to cipher / decipher rot13 text. rot13 is a simple translation where every letter is rotated 13 places thru the alphabet, so a -> n, b -> o, etc. A second rot13 will return ciphered text to normal.

Madeley said...

Cool, cheers Anon- definitely going to catch up ASAP.

SallyP said...

If it has Groo in it, I too am on it.

Toby'c said...

Linkara covered the first few 2099 books a year ago. From memory, Spider-Man was good, Doom was awesome, Punisher and Ravage both sucked. All four videos were pretty good, not least thanks to the appearances by 2090s Kid.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks for the reviews, I'd not read all of these. Of those I have, I'll second the Star Spangled War Stories and Grayson nods, they were both great. I must try some of the other stuff.

jdh417 said...

Is it wrong for me to admit that I like Dick Grayson and Tim Drake more than Batman? The boys don't even have to be dressed as superheroes. I just like their characters.

I remember enjoying the original Spider-Man 2099. I think I only stopped reading it for either financial reasons, or I just got sick of comics in general.

Anonymous said...

I've got the same love for Dick Grayson as you do; you could write a comic about Dick delivering meals to elderly shut-ins and I'd read the hell out of it. DC could do solicits like "This month, Dick fixes an elderly woman's kitchen sink!" and I would get pumped about it.

I don't have the same love for Tim, though, and it occurs to me maybe I haven't seen him showcased properly. Mostly I know him from "Young Justice" and pre-nu52 "Teen Titans", where he unquestionably does a good job, but I don't have a clear mental picture of who he is. Where might I fall in love with him too?

Madeley said...

Tim Drake is "my" Robin as he was the one in the UK reprint comics when I was growing up. Strongly recommend Tim's early appearances, so A Lonely Place of Dying (depending on whether you like Marv Wolfman's writing), and his appearances in the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle Detective Comics (I remember Rite of Passage being good, but I haven't re-read it in years).

Martin Gray said...

Yay for UK DC reprints! (He said unbiased...)

Siskoid said...

And beyond the comics Madeley mentions, the Red Robin book was all kinds of awesome and really showed what made Tim different.

And heck, it's not popular today to praise Chuck Dixon, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with his Robin run and it cemented readers' love for Tim.

Anonymous said...

Heh, "my" Robin is Damian; read into that what you will. (Though IMHO, What you can read into it is that he's a kid who's all too eager to grow up, and I can get that. Yeah, he's a little asshole, but he's a little asshole who's doing his best. And he's not the monster he was when he first appeared.)

I'm old enough that, when I was getting into comics, Robin was still Dick Grayson but off at Hudson University. And I was there when Jason Todd was just a runaway from the circus and not yet a Robin. But I was away from DC during the assholification, killing, and replacing of Jason, so maybe that's why Tim isn't "my" Robin: I wasn't there when Tim appeared.

Siskoid said...

I'd be hard-pressed to name a definite favorite between Dick, Tim and Damian. I like each of them for different reasons.

Madeley said...

I absolutely love the dynamic between Dick and Damian, and the way it flipped the typical Batman and Robin personalities. I wish that version of the duo had run for another ten years.

jdh417 said...

To Anon:

I liked Tim in the Teen Titans, especially the early issues, and in his Robin series. He doesn't have the immense history behind him that Dick has, but I liked his attitude, and he has normal (for superhero) personal issues (namely girlfriend issues).

Unknown said...

So for the record you go out of your way to check out as many new books as you can every month? Asking because it just hit me that you take a lot more "chances" with #1s than I do.

At this point everyone whose opinion I care about has told me Grayson is good, so I'm checking that one out at the earliest opportunity.

Of these I've only read Groo/Conan, Black Market, and Spidey 2099. I actually really liked Spidey 2099 #1 because all you have to know is that he's Spider-Man from the future -- there's zero familiarity with the 2099 setting or his book in particular required, which is handy for me because I skipped over his series when I was a kid.

Black Market bored me and I felt like bringing in superheroes was an unnecessary touch.

And there's no going wrong with Groo (and usually Conan, for that matter)

Unknown said...

Oh, and if you're taking requests, the TT #1 and New Suicide Squad #1 were both earlier this month.

Siskoid said...

New Suicide Squad is a possibility, but not Teen Titans. That book is so broken and awful, I don't expect its new #1 to have anything to offer me.

At this point, the only Titans I like are Bob Haney's.


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