Sunday, March 20, 2011

Capsule reviews: Comics from 3/16

Adventure Comics #524 (DC, $2.99, Paul Levitz, Phil Jimenez) – Part two of the current Legion Academy storyline. Getting grounded after last issue's fiasco, Chemical Kid decides to head back to his homeworld (“borrowing” an old Legion cruiser along the way) to find out why his credit line has been cut off, with several other trainees in tow. Along the way they find out his homestead has been attacked, an old Legion foe shows up, and we end up on a cliffhanger, with the trainees in dire peril.

Last issue concentrated mainly on Glorith, but this time around we get to see some of the other of the Legion trainees given a bit of attention, which is nice. Levitz's story moves along at a nice pace (better than the main Legion title does, to be honest), and Jimenez's art continues to shine, with his ability to handle character designs, background settings, and action scenes all with equal aplomb. This is a fun romp, with a good mix of superheroics and science fiction, the way a good Legion-based story should be.

The Spirit #12 (DC, $2.99, David Hine, Moritat) - Part two of the Clockwork Killer story. This issue jumps back and forth in time, as the aforementioned killer attempts to finish off both Dolan and the Spirit, while the gang war between Zeev and the Octopus heats up. Our killer finds a complication he did not anticipate, which promises to come to a head as the storyline escalates. Hine and Moritat are doing fine work here, and it's a damned shame that this title seems to be due for cancellation.

The Spider #1 (Moonstone, $2.99, Martin Powell, Pablo Marcos, Gary Phillips, Roberto Castro) - The first issue of a new series concentrating on one of the more interesting of the classic pulp heroes, the Spider. We come in on the tail end of the story, with Spider's paramour Nita Van Sloan being threatened by a rather gruesome menace, and the Spider wreaking bloody havoc on those who would threaten her.

This story has several nice touches to it, the least of which not being that Nita is thankfully shown to be highly capable, and not just a helpless captive to be rescued by the hero. The art by Marcos is effective, conveying both the action scenes and the 'weird menace' aspects fairly well. The coloring by Joe Piscopo deserves special mention; his use of primarily blacks, grays and red really help to set the mood for the story. My only complaint is that the story feels a bit rushed; I'm not normally one to complain about a comic book story being told in a 'compressed' manner, but here I can't help but think that this story would flow a bit smoother if it had just a few more pages to work with.

The backup story features Operator 5, a character I'm not as familiar with. We get to see the Operator infiltrate a fascist organization known as the Nordic Cross. The Cross has resources that one might not expect, leaving out hero in dire straits as the issue ends on a cliffhanger. Not having to wrap everything up in this issue, Phillips' story has better pacing than the Spider story does, while Castro's art does a nice job of conveying the pre-war Depression era.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a good debut issue. Recommended for any pulp fans, or for fans of those who don't mind their action-adventure stories being a bit over the top.

The Spider: Burning Lead For The Walking Dead (Moonstone, $7.99, Mark Wheatley) - A one-shot 64-page graphic novel in black and white, which for some reason didn't make it to my store last week. Before I go any further, can I just say that “Burning Lead for the Walking Dead” is quite possibly the coolest title for a comic book story ever.

Mark Wheatley isn't exactly a powerhouse name in the comics industry, but I've been aware of his work since the days of Mars and Blood of the Innocent back in the mid-80's, and (only slightly later) his work on The Black Hood for DC's Impact imprint back in the early 90's. His art style isn't going to appeal to everyone, but I think it suits the story here quite well.

Originally printed in Titanic Tales from Insight Studios back in the late 90's, the art has been reworked slightly so as to be more consistent with Moonstone's other recent Spider stories. For anyone familiar with the Spider, Wheatley's story is very much in the classic Norvell Page mode. Fast paced, with a suitably horrific and over-the-top villain, a prose version of this story would not have been terribly out of place in the original Spider pulp magazine, back in the 30's. Wheatley never lets the story drag, and carries the action through with a manic intensity.

My only real complaint is that Nita and Ram Singh are somewhat underused in this story. The former is mostly used as a hostage to be threatened, and the latter isn't used much at all. This is something of a shame, as these are two of the more intriguing supporting characters in all of the pulps. Still, that's a minor hindrance, and overall the story is quite enjoyable, faithful to its pulp roots, while working well as a modern piece of comic book storytelling. Highly recommended.

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