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Deathmatch #3 (Boom!): I’m really enjoying this book! It completely transcends its basic premise of an NCAA style bracketing system pitting familiar superhero archetypes against their own friends and allies. The assembled heroes and villains who are conscripted into these “Thunderdome” umm, well, death matches, begin to piece together the larger plot driving the action, and in the process Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno offer up a post-modern deconstruction of the genre that calls to mind books like B. Clay Moore & Jeremy Haun’s Battle Hymn or JMS & Gary Frank’s initial run of Supreme Power. There are whiffs of Captain America, Batman, Superman, Rorschach, Iron Man, Aztek, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, WildStorm stuff, and on and on and on, including Jenkins’ own wholly unique creations. Magno’s art is like the bastard love-child of Juan Jose Ryp and George Perez, with short-hatched fine line details over robust figures. The world-building in the main story, the flashbacks to Crisis-like events, pre-existing relationships like Meridian and Berserk, the bracketing of The Mutate and Hater or Meridian and The Collective, and backup profiles all has me thoroughly hooked. I can’t wait to see what happens next. This is easily the best book currently being published by Boom! Studios. Grade A.
The Legend of Luther Strode #3 (Image): As Justin Jordan points out in the backmatter, this issue is largely an extended fight sequence about a hit squad coming for Luther, but because it’s grounded in intriguing characters and relationships, we’re emotionally invested and care about the proceedings. Petra is comic book gold, it’s full of comedic moments, pop culture references (or subtle winks like a sort of pieced together “Jack in the box”), and the rich reveal of the long history of other such “talented” individuals building a larger tapestry for the property, well, that’s got some legs. I hope we get these mini-series for years to come. I mean, it’s gotta’ be at least a trilogy, right? We had The Strange Talent of..., now we’ve got The Legend of..., so what’ll the next one be? Tradd Moore is the perfect thematic match for what the script calls for; his art moves at 100mph and never lets up the sinewy kinetic energy. Grade A.
Guardians of The Galaxy #0.1 (Marvel): It’s silly to me that this is called #0.1, when it could have just as easily been #1, or even #0 if you must prequel prelude predate the actual kick-off of the run with Quill’s origin, but that’s basically the only complaint I have. At this point in my comic book reading career, I was basically all Bendis’d out about 10 years ago, but this was written very well. It’s got some of the stammering Mamet/Sorkin tics that inform Bendis’ style, but it’s not nearly annoying as some of his work and functions pretty seamlessly, even foregoing dialogue altogether in a few spots and relying on the emotional content of the art. McNiven’s art is totally fantastic, like some kind of hybrid involving John Cassaday and Gary Frank, clean strong precise lines with a knack for emotive facial expressions. The design work is first rate, from the ships to the guns to the uniforms, really lending the sense that there are aliens visiting the Earth and off waging interstellar war. Props to Justin Ponsor on coloring too. The ultimate team that comprises the Guardians is eclectic enough to be fun, but the inclusion of Iron Man feels a little forced here. Sure, I understand the angle, deliberately tying it to existing Marvel Movie Continuity with the Guardians film on deck and even going so far as to brand them as “Cosmic Avengers,” but creatively it still comes off like an overt marketing ploy, smart as it may be from a business perspective. Grade A.
Prophet #34 (Image): What I said briefly on Twitter about this book basically stands. The longer the book runs, the more extreme the “weird” gets. It’s more and more off-kilter sci-fi and the story becomes so lost in the glorious micro detail and inventive manic world-building that there’s really no semblance of a macro plot throughline. At any given point, I really have no idea what the characters are trying to accomplish, where they’re going, or why they’re doing any of that, but the art from (mostly now) Simon Roy, or Brandon Graham himself, or occasional contributors like Farel Dalrymple or Giannis Milonogiannis is all first rate. It’s so good and so cool that I still can’t seem to look away, even though I’m occasionally frustrated by the storytelling style. Since Graham disappointed me with the (not really a) “conclusion” in the last issue of Multiple Warheads, I’m especially suspicious that he has no idea where he’s going, and either doesn’t have an end point in mind or will start and stop indefinitely with audience juking, and is basically making it up as he goes along. The good news is that indie creator Malachi Ward gives us a terrific back-up story (and a cover) that’s one of the better bonus stories I’ve seen since very early in this book’s run. Grade A-.