Sabina Moreno: Review of Comics December-January 2014

December 27, 2013 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In this debut feature, Sabina Moreno will be launching a series of reviews of new Comics and Graphic novels as they are hitting the shelves in stores. Check out inside details and summaries from some of the most exciting illustrated storylines in the country.


Writing: Mark Waid
Art: Ronilson Freire
Covers: Paolo Rivera

Set during World War II, Mark Waid's run on The Green Hornet has been a whirlwind re-imagining of the beloved pulp hero. Britt Reid, reunited with his domino wearing, martial artist ally Kato, continues to don the guise of the Green Hornet to masquerade as a criminal mastermind with the true goal of infiltrating the underworld and being a force for justice. The series has been intensely character driven, repeatedly asking how far a hero will go to be a convincing villain.

The text is minimal in this issue's opening. After a couple of introductory sentences, the story moves along without captions or dialogue for many pages. To the credit of artist Ronilson Freire, the action unfolds cleanly and clearly from panel to panel. We're swiftly introduced to some lovable street urchins, but hardships abound by the time word balloons appear. The rest of the story concerns the legend of the Green Hornet--not in a metafictional sense, but in a contextual, in-universe way. Though much of this series has focused on Britt Reid and his reputation as an upstanding if egotistical newspaper publisher, this issue is about his alter ego's renown and notoriety. One of the central questions of this story arc is what really happens once a man builds a myth. What criminal parasites will spring up in the wake of The Green Hornet's infamy? Can Britt Reid right their wrongs?

Ultimately, this issue is a solid continuation of  Mark Waid's run, keeping the style and theme consistent.  The Green Hornet #8 presents all his relevant ideas in miniature, or in distillation. However, this is also a very enjoyable story as a stand alone. Although the reader benefits from having issues #1-7 or at least a general knowledge of The Green Hornet mythos, this particular issue would be fine for a first time reader.

BUY THIS IF: you like classic pulp heroes, excellent writing, and/or stories about orphans.


Writing: Gail Simone
Art: Walter Geovani
Covers: Jenny Frison; variant cover by Jill Thompson

This comic has gorgeous art and magnificent writing penned by one of the top talents in the entire industry. Gail Simone, known primarily for her stellar work on many of DC's titles, takes on the classic chainmail bikini character: Red Sonja. The results are nothing short of fantastic--though be warned--if it's a deal breaker for you--that despite the cover, Red Sonja is in full armor for this issue. Given that in her original 1973 appearance (Conan the Barbarian #23) she wearing a long sleeved chainmail shirt and red shorts, this really shouldn't be a problem.

Since this issue is the climatic conclusion of the current Queen of Plagues arc, it isn't the best jumping in point. The first five issues are likely still available at any friendly neighborhood comic book shop, of which Jacksonville has many. That said: this issue alone packs more action than most series pull in during their entire run. There's dueling; there's group battle; there's treachery and betrayal. The dialogue is all gleefully and appropriately Howard flavored--"there will be no mawkish head to hold your gaudy crown," for example, is what Red Sonja shouts at the smarmy villain of the story. Previously surrendering to a formidable warrior and leader called Dark Annisia, Red Sonja must fight to find out the truth about the plague that has claimed countless lives. Filled with action, startling revelations, and surprising self sacrifice, Red Sonja #6 is a thrilling conclusion to a terrific storyline. Even the women who aren't holding swords are incredible.

BUY THIS IF: you like swords and sorcery settings, superb writing, great art, fiery redheads, girl on girl feuds, and/or ladies that know how to fight.

 Really, you should seriously consider getting issues #1-5, or picking up the Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues trade paperback that will collect them all and go on sale in February. Additionally: there's also LEGENDS OF RED SONJA, which is a run of stand alone stories (each issue telling one "legend"), tied together by Gail Simone. This star studded collaboration features a selection of all female writers and cover artists. As a rough idea of what caliber of writer is working on this: issue #4, coming out soon, is by fantasy giant Mercedes Lackey. Enough said.


Writing: Chris Roberson
Art: Jonathan Lau
Covers: Jae Lee, Jonathan Lau

Codename: Action is the reboot for the eponymous Captain Action, originally an action figure from the 1960's, starting from origin story up. Caption Action is a superspy, so his series is appropriately set during the Cold War. There are gadgets and amphibious cars amid the high stakes political tension, and it's up to Captain Action and his team to more or less save the world by preventing nuclear war. It's a little James Bond-esque, of course, and we even get to see our hero in black tie at an earlier point in the series. However, in this particular issue, the plain superspy plot has been left behind, and the story soars onward to greater things. A lot of narrative momentum has gone into an elaborate excuse for some genre mishmash--but it's a wonderful and fun romp through Dynamite's extensive character roster. Within the story it makes perfect sense that such a mix of characters would be in the same place at the same time, which is an impressive narrative feat.

 It helps that Jonathan Lau's art is gorgeous and cinematic at every turn. The action feels high risk and fluid, but even quiet moments are well staged and thoughtfully rendered. Captain Action himself is very much the archetypal manly spy hero (he's wearing a black wetsuit at one point and everything), but the story needs his stoic and grounding presence. It's Black Venus who does the wisecracking, and her amused, unimpressed quips contrast perfectly with Captain Action's straight man act. It's worth noting that Black Venus is a delight and extremely unusual. She is both older and more experienced than Captain Action, and though she makes more jokes, it's heavily implied that she's done far more killing in her career. She talks down to him a little, in the way any grizzled agent does to the rookie in every cop or spy movie ever made, but the gender role inversion makes it fresh. Honestly, the fact that there's an older female character at all would be enough to make this comic innovative and worthy of support.

BUY THIS IF: you like character extravaganzas/crossovers, superspies, maniacal mad scientists, any Cold War era story ever created, competent female characters, traditional gender role inversions, or spies in wetsuits (male or female). Buy the back issues. Once you're done catching up, take to the internet and announce that Black Venus is great until Dynamite Comics notices.



Writing: Marc Gaffen, Kyle McVey
Art: Rod Rodolfo
Cover: Lucio Parrillo

GRIMM is the comic book tie in to the NBC TV show of the same name. While fans of the TV show will have no problem going into the comic, the writers do a good job of explaining the show specific jargon. It's very accessible to the comic book reader who hasn't seen even a single episode, which is a good sign in crossover media. This issue is entirely flashback sans frame story, following Aunt Marie--a character who only appeared in two episodes of the show, making this a true expansion of the Grimm universe. This is also a seasonally appropriate issue, and takes place during Christmas.

Whatever flaws this comic might have, keep in mind that this is a Christmas issue that follows an older woman dying of cancer who kills monsters in between chemotherapy treatments. That's pretty brave. Lucio Parrillo's cover art is hauntingly beautiful, with a darkly lush monster and Aunt Marie rendered as more marble than flesh, in the style of a sculpted angel in a graveyard. Really, cancer functions here as a metaphor for human mortality, yet Aunt Marie manages to tell an uplifting holiday story in between the monster killing.

BUY THIS IF: you're a fan of the TV show, you like monster slaying ladies, you need a positive cancer story with supernatural elements, or you like your Holiday specials to be spooky.



Writing: Mark Rahner
Art: Jethro Morales
Cover: Jay Anacleto, with the "incentive" cover by Carlos Rafael

If Dynamite's mission is to modernize the pulps of yesteryear, this series is where to do it. It feels exactly like an updated reimaging, possibly by virtue of a single, elegant innovation: the love interest is now the main character. Dejah Thoris, the eventual wife of John Carter, has her own series. Though there are flashes of conversations between her and John Carter, he doesn't actually appear in the story as such--he has his own Dynamite title, and the timelines deliberately don't line up so that Dejah can fly solo here instead of being the damsel in distress.

Before anyone gets upset about this feminist innovation, let me say that Dejah is basically naked for most of the book, so the flavor of Barsoom is absolutely preserved. Dejah Thoris is hugely stacked, naked except for some well placed gold jewelry, and has amazing hair. Edgar Rice Burroughs would approve. Throughout this issue, Dejah visits various unsavory and dangerous places, slowly putting together her team of deadly experts who have fallen from grace. Now that she has her own super squad, what adventures await? Hopefully many. Jethro Morales does stunning art to accompany Mark Rahner's excellent writing, flashing back and forwards through time in dreamy, non-intrusive intervals. Bottom line: this is fun and you should read it

Spoiler alert for those of us who can't read things where the dog dies: Dejah saves a baby calot from being blown up. Taking a recent cinematic cue, the calot here looks like an adorably hideous space pug puppy. You have to save Space Pug Puppy from being blown up, or you're a terrible person. Dejah Thoris is not a terrible person. The calot lives. End spoilers.

BUY THIS IF: you like anything about ERB's vision of Mars, scantily clad alien babes, misfit team up stories, vivid settings, modernized reboots, cool creature designs, competent female characters, good art, or stories where the dog doesn't die.
DON'T BUY THIS IF: if you root for the dog to die. Also, you're a terrible human being.


Writing: David Liss
Art: Ivan Rodriguez
Cover: Colton Worley

Ah, the uninitiated might think when looking at this cover, a hero with an arachnid name and a webbing costume. I know what this is about.

No, actually. The Spider is another character pulled from early pulp fiction and modernized for the contemporary reader. Even the costume has a pulpy pedigree, taking inspiration from The Spider movie serials from the 1940's--think Warren Hull, not Andrew Garfield. The Spider's secret identity is Richard Wentworth, a man with a military history and a mysterious Black Ops mission gone wrong. Instead of being a technical pacifist with a hard rule to never use a gun, the Spider...shoots a lot of people. It isn't really gratuitous: the uncompromising moral stance is essential to the Spider and has been part of the character since the early 1930's. But if you're used to superheroes that go out of their way to not kill, The Spider can be a surprise.

Despite this, the Spider is unexpectedly funny. It's not that he quips, exactly. Rather, his sense of humor is darker and sometimes ridiculous. This is an actual line from this issue: "THE PASSWORD IS EXPLOSIVE DENTAL TRUAMA." Contrasting with the humor, the art is appropriately gloomy, giving the Spider lots of fittingly brooding poses. Ivan Rodriguez draws a good cape, which is actually important in a visual medium with a hero who swoops down from heights on a regular basis. The writing is very self aware--maybe a little too self aware--often stopping just short of actually breaking the fourth wall. Some comic tropes are dialed up to the extreme, but it seems to be done mostly lovingly. My only real criticism here is that for some inexplicable reason, all the women are wearing pantsuits. This is probably better than all the women wearing school girl skirts, but artists David Aja and Jamie McKelvie have forever changed comic fashion standards.

In this issue, the Spider is upset (no surprise) about a new criminal who threatens his territory and his protected people. Spider does some investigative work, mostly by beating people up (still no surprise). This leads him to the lair of the big bad, but no self respecting comic book villain meets the hero alone...

BUY THIS IF: you like a little humor with your violence, sinister fedoras, self aware fiction, unbridled comic book style ridiculousness, or women in pantsuits.

LADY RAWHIDE #3 (of 5)

Writer: Eric Trautmann
Artist: Milton Estevam
Cover: Joseph Michael Linsner

Here's the easiest way to explain Lady Rawhide as a character: imagine Zorro. Add big breasts. Put these big breasts in a cowgirl lingerie costume made by Leg Avenue, meant to be worn at sexy Halloween parties. Top this off with a flaming mane of dyed red hair and you have Lady Rawhide, as long as she's still basically doing Zorro style things in that outfit. Her secret identity is Anita Santiago and she's really a brunette. Despite her appearance on the covers, within the pages of this arc, as drawn by Milton Estevam, Lady Rawhide looks very Latina, with light olive skin and wild, cascading curls. She was created in the 90's and she is in the same timeline and setting as Zorro, vowing revenge on him for inadvertently maiming her brother. All the sort-of-Mexican Western tropes are here, even within this very issue: tyrannical officials, peasants yelling about revolution, a kind priest, and a masked vigilante on a horse.

This issue also has a whole organization of masked bandits called The Sisters of the White Rose as the main antagonists, which basically guarantees some fun times. There is civil unrest and a lot of innocent people will die if Lady Rawhide does not somehow intervene, yet she must also free some prisoners to rescue an honorable captain she has great respect for. Armed with acrobatic skills, her trusty pistols, and a whip that seemingly has the power to make people arch their backs suggestively when lassoed, Lady Rawhide must take on the Sisters of the White Rose and then escape in time to prevent a slaughter.

BUY THIS IF: you like it when all the girls are pretty and also have guns, fiery fake redheads, fiery Latinas, or Westerns.



Writing: Brandon Jerwa
Art: Heubert Khan Michael
Covers: Fabiano Neves, Lucio Parrillo

Originally the hostess of a horror short story comic, Vampirella has been a superhero in her own right since the early 1970's. Her iconic costume is pure cheesecake, but when you're functionally immortal you don't need armor and you can wear what you want. Though she started off with a campy sci-fi origin--complete with a planet of vampires--these days Vampirella stories are more likely to feature biblical evil and occult villains. Regardless of origin story, Vampirella always fights on the side of good.

This issue opens with Lilith, who is Vampirella's mother, and briefly features an adorably bookish satyr archivist, who then unwittingly ushers Lilith into the presence of the story's antagonist. It's a bit of a surprise so I'll keep it vague, but the villain is pleasantly gross and somewhat unexpected. The conflict here is one fought by trickery--Lilith is being forced to lead Vampirella to almost certain doom. Even if Vampirella saves herself, will she ever be able to trust her mother again?

BUY THIS IF: you like sexy vampires, stories with demons, or mother-daughter drama.



Writing: Arvid Nelson
Art: Wagner Reis
Covers: Joe Jusko, Lucio Parrillo

John Carter of Mars has been entrancing audiences since 1912 and has appeared in a truly vast variety of media. Arguably, he is the most enduring character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, rivaled only by Tarzan.

About this issue: Warlord of Mars #31 is also Tyrant of Mars #1 of 5, so you can jump right into this series from here--though at least a general familiarity with the setting is probably required. By this point in the timeline, John Carter and Dejah Thorin have had children, but that is explained simply and quickly in this comic. The story opens with a nice splash page of Green Martians on their mounts, establishing the richness of the setting very quickly. John Carter, in his usual human fashion, is set on splitting open some ancient monuments. The Red Spire of Greater Helium and the Yellow Spire of Lesser Helium have stood undisturbed for untold millennia, but John Carter wants them split open and John Carter gets what he wants. This unleashes many terrible monsters and the comic treats us to pages of lavishly rendered fight scenes. But that's not all that John Carter finds...

BUY THIS IF: you like Edgar Rice Burroughs, giant spider monsters, strange reunions, family drama, and, of course, scantily clad alien babes.

About Sabina Moreno

Sabina graduated with a degree in psychology and promptly got a job with a zoo's primate behavior observation team. While there, her main research project involved waiting for monkeys to have sex on film. Sabina held the camera. After the monkeys successfully had sex, she had to write a summary about it. Thus began a promising career in academic monkey porno production.

After spending weeks asking herself, "THIS what I went to college for?" Sabina realized that this was indeed her destiny: writing. She ditched the monkeys, though.

She wrote gay superhero romances for free while she worked in animal rescue, then wrote more gay superheroes while working as an elementary school teacher, and then started writing paranormal romance because she's always been a spooky person. Mostly, she blames her father for giving her a copy of Dracula when she was nine.

In her spare time, Sabina reads everything from fine classical literature to fine current comic books. She runs, lifts weights, and in between picking things up and putting them down swears that she will get back into skateboarding some day. She hoards leg warmers and scarves in the winter and lives in cut off shorts and a bikini in the summer.

Somewhere in the Southern US, Sabina lives with plants, a twenty pound cat named after a Norse god, a rescue dog named Ernesto who may or may not be a pit bull, and her Karate Boyfriend, Z. She enjoys long walks on the beach and drinking hot coffee