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Deathmatch #4 (Boom!): I’m really growing to love this book! Paul Jenkins has been able to create this multivalent approach, making the story work in different layers. You have the basic action-oriented bracketing system, where heroes and villains simply face off in seemingly random matches to the death, which appear to be beyond their immediate control. You then have a deeper superhero thriller, a mystery about how they got there and what the larger story is with their captors and their shared past. On yet a third layer, there’s the sometimes subtle, sometimes in-your-face industry meta-commentary that tears up the familiar archetypes and works toward a deconstruction of the most prevalent and played-out genre. While the latter mechanism might feel a little “insider baseball” to some newcomers, it works because Jenkins has clearly spent so much time and effort world-building. There’s a complete and rich back story to these characters, their profiles, their first appearances, their previous adventures, their prior relationships to each other, and to their world around them. You really do feel like you’ve stepped into a universe that’s been running for decades. Carlos Magno is an incredible artist who miraculously channels the best parts of George Perez and Gary Frank and Juan Jose Ryp and creates this perfect tapestry of style and detail. Because of all the layers, I think there are so many entry points created. If you’re one of those fans who grew up with shared superhero universes from Marvel or DC, I can’t imagine you not being attracted to the examination that this offers to those types of characters, both nostalgic and skeptically modernized. Yet, if you’re new to this crazy little thing called comics, it’s inventive and refreshing enough that you can still enjoy it fully without all of that pre-existing baggage. Everyone should be talking about this book. It’s not even April and I can safely say that if Deathmatch continues with this fervor on this trajectory, it’ll be making an appearance on my Best of 2013 list. It’s been the most pleasant and unexpected surprise of the year. Grade A+.
The Legend of Luther Strode #4 (Image): “You’re a fucking psychopath. But I have to admit... this is pretty beautiful.” If I wanted to be a lazy critic, I’d be tempted to just post this line all by itself and let it suffice as the damn review. The book is manic and frenetic in all the right ways, but there’s an undeniable sense of artistry to the chaos. As the tales of Luther Strode continue on, I feel like, at the hands of Justin Jordan, it’s becoming a more “complete” property or world, organically creating everything an epic story needs. Petra is the love interest who defies type, Binder is a subversive twist to the “Whistler” character (if you happened to want a Blade reference), and Jack The Ripper is an incredibly strong foil. Tradd Moore has to possess one of the most kinetic aesthetics in the medium today. I mean, the only other guys that really come to mind are Nathan Fox or Rafael Grampa. That said, Moore is in a different league than most, nailing the bloody grindhouse mood that is the perfect marriage of horror and superheroics. Oh, he gets style points too. Check out the fun layouts, like that aerial diagrammatic view of the room that suddenly gets inserted to clarify the action. Ultimately, this issue amounts to an extended fight scene that’s so violent it almost becomes satirical laughter, but that perception would be missing the point. This book is about passion, passion for the medium, passion for the genres it works with, passion for the characters, passion for the act of creation and executing a unique fun vision. Grade A.
Guardians of The Galaxy #1 (Marvel): This book is all over the place and the end result is a disappointment. You know, I get the whole media angle of including Tony Stark, so these guys can be like “The Cosmic Avengers” or whatever when their big movie comes out (and shame on DC for not even getting a Wonder Woman movie out in order to move toward Justice League while Marvel is already going deep into the bench with a fucking Guardians of The Galaxy movie by the way, I mean, that’s just embarrassing), but the whole thing just isn’t played very organic. Tony’s presence continually feels shoehorned in. The mention of the Galactic Council, where we see Shi’ar and Brood, etc. is a tired reminder that this is supposed to be firmly entrenched in the Marvel U, and when the hell did J.A.R.V.I.S. become P.E.P.P.E.R.? Do I have Marvel NOW! to thank for that? Ugh. So, Star-Lord is in the Mos Eisley Cantina throwing his rap to a Kree babe when his dad interrupts. I don’t understand why the chick says “I can do it. I can do it!” as she’s ushered off. Do what? Who is she talking to? What does she mean? Papa Spartax’s whole law doesn’t even make any sense since it would be violated, oh, daily, with offworlders making incursions into Earth. I mean, has he heard of S.W.O.R.D.? There’s a whole agency dedicated to thwarting that. By the end, I’m not even sure why he told his kid that or whatever. What was his plan? He knew his kid wouldn't do what he wanted him to do so he told him what to do anyway so he'd do the thing he didn't want in order to accomplish some other thing he did want that includes destroying Earth and his son, or something? It’s just people saying words and talking in circles, totally convoluted. Rocket is fun, as always. Tony’s got some ugly ass armor on that looks like Sunfire. Star-Lord has an incredibly ugly and dumb helmet on that looks more like Nova or, no, let's be real, it looks like Power Rangers. His uniform is atrocious, looking nothing like any of the promo art. Star-Lord: “What are you doing out here?” Tony: “You invited me.” Star-Lord: “Oh yeah, I did.” That is some lazy ass illogical dialogue right there, boys and girls. There’s still some latent potential here, but this was extremely stumbly. Grade B-.