It’s time for the last reviews section I’ll be doing this year. I have to make it a little quicker than usual, too, because I’ve got to bob out to pick up some quality sherry for Santa next week. The higher the alcohol content, the better the present! I think that’s how it works, anyway.
This week was an incredibly packed one for comics, with everybody trying to get as many issues out as possible before Christmas. However, I’ve knocked it down to four issues, each from a different publisher. Diversity! Sort of.
This week I’ll be reviewing The Spider #7, X-Treme x-Men #8, Harbinger #7 and Birds of Prey #15.
The Spider is one of Dynamite’s many pulp heroes. Writer David Liss is currently in charge of the book, and he appears to be taking an episodic approach to the series, with each issue featuring a lead story which ties back to the ongoing sub-plots and relationships in the eponymous antihero’s life. This issue sees him track down a killer who buries people alive, for example, but in the process he gets involved with the widow of his best friend, and goes on to get himself thoroughly tangled up in himself. Which, metaphor!
It’s a decent issue, written well by Liss, if without a particularly distinctive voice to make The Spider stand apart as a unique figure. He seems a little standard. Ivan Rodriguez’s artwork displays an artist with excellent grasp on storytelling and structure, as each page progresses well. However, his fight scenes are somewhat muddled and confusing, with the final confrontation here comprised of The Spider jumping about while the killer fires various random guns at him. The character expressions are also a little glazed, with the melodrama of Liss’ dialogue often undersold by the vacant expressions worn by those repeating it.
It’s a standard pulp fiction piece, overall, written well and with art which – for the most part – does a good job telling the story.
Before I move to X-Treme X-Men #8, I have to point out this is a book tailored specifically for me by Greg Pak. An update of Marvel’s Exiles concept, with Dazzler in the team leader role and alternate versions of Nightcrawler, Xavier and Nightcrawler comprising the team, X-Treme X-Men this week features Sage, unicorns, and cowboy hats. I’m trying to remain objective, but all those things make me pretty excited already.
It’s a pretty light series, with a simple premise and wacky sense of story. Each issue sees Dazzler and Sage head to a different universe, where Greg Pak can play around with whatever he wants to. This week sees unicorns as the central focus for the story, although the narrative is always secondary to jokes and silliness. For example, the main threat here is established and removed as an afterthought, with most of the issue devoted to character interaction between two different ‘exile’ teams, each led by a different Dazzler. They misunderstand each other, fight, etc.
It’s everything you would expect from a superhero series from Greg Pak, with a Silver-Age sensibility. It’s light hearted and fun rather than ‘important’ - something I enjoy, but I understand other readers not having much time for. I think the book suffers from feeling inconsequential at times, but the jokes land more often than not, and Pak has a good voice for the characters. So in that regard, issue #8 is business as usual.
Harbinger was the only Valiant title I hadn’t tried prior to this week, and I started with Harbinger #2. The book appears to be using the second arc to do a series of one-shot stories in which the main hero recruits people with latent superpowers to join his team. This week, that means a good ol’ gal joins the team and discovers her repressed rage implodes into the ability to harness fire. It’s not an unexpected twist, but writer Joshua Drysart brings life to the character arc.
I was rather shut out by the overreaching plot, which seems to involve a lot of people planning psychic things with each other, but that’s more my fault for jumping in so late. Of the three artists, Barry Kitson’s work commands the most attention, but the work here is consistently decent, for the most part. In that regard, colourists Ian Hannin and Dan Brown deserve much of the credit for their work in keeping things fairly consistent. The characters seem interesting enough – I particularly dislike the Kris character, who spends this issue jealously slut-shaming the new recruit. You don’t normally see a ‘girlfriend’ character who unlikeable, and Drysart’s cast of misfits form a unique dynamic together.
On the topic of unique dynamics, Duane Swierczynski’s run on Birds of Prey has been stellar since issue #1, all those months back. Currently focusing on a pared-down team of Black Canary, Batgirl, Starling and Katana, issue #15 sees even more cast changes take place by the time we reach the final page.
The issue wraps up Katana’s side of the series, while leaving one last sub-plot running (Swierczynski is leaving the book soon, to be replaced by Jim Zub). Juan Jose Ryp provides the art, as well as the baffling question “why hasn’t anybody hired Juan Jose Ryp to be the main artist on a book yet?”
Now — Ryp does tend to, ahem, accentuate the ladies a little too much, and every act of violence is accompanied by a comedically large splatters of blood. But his posture and structure are great, and he choreographs fights brilliantly. Here we see the team launch a rescue mission for the captured Katana, who herself tries to fight free with one broken arm. His composition and placement are careful, but he also makes sure to show the characters actively participating in battle, rather than making stock poses amidst the chaos.
Ryp somehow manages to make the fight work, even with Katana flailing one-armed at enemies and Batgirl’s every punch drenching the reader in fountains of claret. He’s a great, ridiculous superhero comic artist, and I hope he gets an ongoing gig sometime soon. Inker Vicente Cifuentes also does some excellent work with the book, making each character pop against the background and seem larger than life.
As ever, an entertaining book, with great dialogue and character interplay, at least two great moments for Starling (THE stand out character of the New 52), and some intriguing setup leading to the end of Swierczynski’s run.
Birds of Prey is DC’s best team book by miles, and a consistently thrilling read.