A Weekend of Reviews: The Past (Angel & Faith #3, Hulk #43-44 & More)

Hi Folks!

This weekend, I'm doing something a little special. Today, I'm posting some short reviews of some books from previous weeks that I've just plain missed reviewing. I wanted to make sure you knew about some of these books--good, bad, and ugly.

This time out, we've got special entries from Boom! and Dark Horse Comics, Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1 and Angel & Faith #3, as well as traditional Marvel fare like Hulk #43-44 and Fear Itself #7.1: Captain America. Rounding out this entry are Image's Savage Dragon #175 and DC's I, Vampire #2 and Swamp Thing #3.

As always, these books are rated, from great to awful,using my four-stage rating system: Buy It, Read It, Skip It, Burn It.

ANGEL & FAITH #3 - Dark Horse Comics, $2.99
By Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs & Joss Whedon

Did everyone know I'm a Whedon fan? No? I guess I'll have to ramp up the articles like this one, then.

Angel & Faith both have ample things in their lives to make up for, and this series, through its three issues, has ably demonstrated this fact. With Giles dead at Angel's hand (in the climactic finale of Buffy Season 8) and magic a thing of the past (see previous!), magical items are at a premium. They don't come more magical than the precious blood of the Mohra demon, famous in Angel lore for temporarily turning him human in the season one episode "I Will Remember You." Someone's selling the cure-all at premium prices, and it's up to the titular duo to take them down.

I lied: I missed the second issue, but thanks to the largely done-in-one nature of Gage's scripts, I wasn't lost at all. Rebekah Isaacs is a name unfamiliar to me, but I'll be tracking down her work from this point forward. And if it's one thing Gage (also famous for Marvel's sensational Avengers Academy) excels at, it's tight characterization in the Whedon mold. Who knew that, so many years after the characters' introductions in Buffy, they'd still be as engaging as ever? A solid story hook, solid art, and some snappy scripting don't lie--definitely Buy It!

BETRAYAL OF THE PLANET OF THE APES #1 - Boom! Studios, $3.99
By Corinna Sara Bechko, Gabriel Hardman & Jordie Bellaire

On the other hand--I hear the gasps from the crowd already starting--I've never truly been a fan of the Planet of the Apes film cycle. Oh, sure, I've seen the 1968 original with the screenplay by Rod Serling, and I've seen Marky Mark--excuse me, Mark Wahlberg--in the Tim Burton remake. Given that I tremendously enjoyed this summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and also that I've been shouting and crying to give Gabriel Hardman's Hulk art the attention it deserved all of the last year, I had to pick this book up.

Based on the earlier film series, Betrayal picks up 20 years before the first film, telling the tale of General Aleron, a military man turned defense lawyer. His client is Dr. Cato, accused of the heretic crime of teaching a human to talk. He is able to convince Dr. Zaius (from the original films) and the council that Cato is not guilty, but that's only the beginning of the tale that turns more insidious with each turn.

Bechko and Hardman, a husband-and-wife creative team, don't just craft a solid story that wholly embraces the Apes universe I'm just learning about. They create an enticing yarn with suspenseful elements, and some of the best art I've seen from Hardman. It's clear they both dearly love the material. Similarly, colorist Jordie Bellaire matches Hardman every step of the way.

I may not have watched the second through fifth films in the Apes cycle, but you can bet I'll be remedying that oversight this weekend. If you can find it, Buy It.

FEAR ITSELF: CAPTAIN AMERICA #7.1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice & Bettie Breitweiser

Did anyone not see this one coming?

Yes, that's a bit of hyperbole, but it's no less than this pointed epilogue to Fear Itself deserves. After Bucky's ignoble death in the middle of the summer event, you had to think to yourself, That's a waste. They brought him back, they had him wear the Captain America outfit, for this? The character's been a runaway success since returning early in Brubaker's Cap run, so why eliminate that potential revenue stream? I mean, erm, why kill a big ol' cash korova? Hell, I can't stop telling the obvious truth. (By the way, 'korova' is the phonetic spelling of the Russian word for "cow." Got it?)

For Captain America fans, this story should be all you've wished for, as it's by the same team as that series. There are two stories going at once here: the story of Bucky's funeral, and the story behind the story that everyone who wasn't deluding themselves knew was coming. It's a serviceable storyline aided by excellent artwork by Guice and lavish colors by Breitweiser. It sets up Winter Soldier #1. It exposes the middle of Fear Itself (and some of the ending) as a sham. It goes to show you that nobody really dies at Marvel anymore so long as the company imagines they can turn a profit.

God, I'm jaded! It's by-the-numbers with awesome art. But beware: You'll be paying four whole dollars for 20 pages of story. If that's your bag, well, I can't stop you. My recommendation: Read It.

HULK #43-44 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Jeff Parker, Patrick Zircher & Rachelle Rosenberg

It's been a while since last I reviewed Jeff Parker's perennially excellent Hulk. This time, I'll remedy that with two issues for the price of one! And I'll try to keep it brief so I won't be boring.

I've really been torn lately with Hulk. On the one hand, it's got an excellent, inspiring throughline of stories, with the many persistent threats of issues past, including some really novel villains. The book honestly reads like the best of Marvel's Silver Age Incredible Hulk stories from the seventies. On the other hand, the character is utterly derivative of the original, green-skinned Hulk, who's just had his own series relaunched yet again. I should be crying from the mountaintops for Marvel to cancel this book and restore Bruce Banner as the one and only man-monster. It's downright criminal that this series continues its numbering while Banner and (green) Hulk get a new first issue, right?

Ross goes against the wishes of the U.S. government in this storyline, "Hulk of Arabia," leaping into a politically-charged locale with the intent of avenging one of his old military buddies. Of course, because he crosses Steve Rogers, the Super-Soldier takes a few of his Secret Avengers pals with him to defuse the situation.Along the way, this Hulk picks up some characters who've been seen in Hulk tales past: Machine Man (who teamed with the original Hulk during Roger Stern's tenure) and Arabian Knight (whose first iteration was introduced by Bill Mantlo, also in the prior series).

The story is perfectly illustrated by Patch Zircher, an artist I've wanted to see on a Hulk book for many years. The art's terrific. The colors by Rachelle Rosenberg look great. And good grief, can Jeff Parker write pretty.

Like I said, I really want one and only one Hulk book, about a green and not red goliath. But not just yet. Buy It, won't you?

I, VAMPIRE #2 - DC Comics, $2.99
By Joshua Hale Fialkov, Andrea Sorrentino & Marcelo Maiolo

Shouldn't a series come out swinging or the fences with its best shot? Thanks for holding back, Fialkov!

But seriously, folks: The second issue of I, Vampire is even better than the first. That's not to say it's perfect--there are still some aspects creeping in that I don't like and which could prove to be the book's undoing--but overall, this whole creative team should step up and take a bow. They're batting 1.000.

The name of the series is I, Vampire, and with that title comes an intriguing idea: Each issue will have a different narrator, a different spotlighted vampire, than the previous. This time out, it's Mary Seward's turn. Mary, the self-titled Queen of Blood, whom Andrew turned into a vampire so they could spend eternity together, only to find out she really enjoyed the lifestyle.

Mary's narration is engaging, every bit as much as her former lover Andrew's in the previous story. It serves as a counterpoint to the previous, and a scary reminder of what's to come in future episodes. She has sass, she has swagger, she's utterly, terrifyingly gleeful about the state of the world and the part she feels destined to play. Overall, it's a thrilling character piece that picks up the narrative where issue one left off.

I did say there's a potential weakness to the book, didn't I? Unfortunately, that would be the work of artist Andrea Sorrentino. While I love the composition of each panel, the panels themselves are the source of my disdain. With precious few exceptions, every page is filled with the same "widescreen" series of panels from top to bottom, just like a movie storyboard. Having virtually every page filled with the same pattern of four or five panels per page can be truly monotonous, regardless of the artistic talent involved. Worse, it tells me the artist would almost rather be storyboarding movies. I know, I know, Kirby and the greats used to use the six-panel grid all the time, and they're still energetic as anything, right? Still, it would be nice to see a little more variety in the panel layout.

Ah, I've voiced my displeasure enough. This is one of the New 52's "must-buy" titles. Fialkov just gets it, and Maiolo accentuates Sorrentino's art just right. Buy It!

SAVAGE DRAGON #175 - Image Comics, $3.99
By Erik Larsen, Gary Carlson, Frank Fosco & Bill Sienkiewicz

I cannot believe that next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of Savage Dragon's introduction in Image Comics. Who'd have foreseen Erik Larsen's creation lasting so long? No offense to Erik, certainly, as he's the man of a million ideas, and I'm sure he could keep writing and drawing this book until he's old and gray. To be the sole Image founder to have truly stuck with his creation after all these years, that takes some determination. And having met the man, it's clear he's just as enthusiastic now as he likely was when he started this journey.

This book has seen its share of ups and downs, but it's always been, at the very least, entertaining. I remember the days of the over-the-top sexual innuendoes and the ever-evolving Vicious Circle gang. I remember when "This Savage World" was brand-new, feeling like a way for Erik to free himself from a continuity that seemed to box his hero in. And what a terrific play on a reboot it ended up being. I remember the big anniversary issues, I remember the Dragon/Urass ticket, and I remember Dragon meeting Obama (and being lucky enough to receive that first printing variant in my weekly comics shipment without having to pay over cover price). So, yes, I have every issue of Savage Dragon, from both series; every Freak Force; and just about every other Dragon-related miniseries there was. I'm a Fin-Addict.

During the last few issues following Dragon's "death" in #168, I'd grown comfortable with the book being passed on to Malcolm Dragon, our hero's son. Seeing how Erik mostly paces the series in real time, it felt natural that the torch would go to him sooner or later. Imagine my surprise when I saw the cover to this issue, and read the interiors. He's surprised us once again! Where he originally gave us Dragon's origin as a one-off story, he has wisely used it to fuel the last twenty-odd issues of stories, and has now given us an altogether new status quo. Dragon in a Buck Rogers-esque role? Something that must be seen to be believed.

This series never ceases to entertain, and that's what keeps bringing me back. From a great first story, to back-ups featuring the new Dart and Vanguard, it's got something for everyone. The big two don't make comics like this anymore. Thank God for Erik Larsen. If you love old school comics, Buy It. If you don't--there's no hope for you.

SWAMP THING #3 - DC Comics, $2.99
By Scott Snyder, Victor Ibanez & Yanick Paquette

Oh, Swamp Thing. I had such high hopes for you.

As a rule, I'm really enjoying DC's "Dark" subdivision of titles. Oh, sure, I've dropped a couple, and most of the greater line has gone bye-bye. But I've enjoyed Swamp Thing so far because it's been unconventional. It's been interesting through Brightest Day since DC played with the idea that this isn't Alan Moore's Swampy, that this is, for the first time ever, Alec Holland as Swamp Thing, "the way it was always meant to be."

However, at three issues of nearly constant setup, something's got to give.

Oh, sure, it's a well-told bit of setup, but still, the leisurely pace of this "new" origin of the Swamp Thing is clearly structured to appear in a graphic novel collection, and readers who pick up these single issues, well...does this method of storytelling really speak to you? It doesn't speak to me. I like my twenty pages jam-packed with story. I don't like the false advertising bit of having the hero look as he should on the cover but still be the human Holland throughout the issue.

I do like that we're meeting the old cast of characters from the original Swamp Thing, like Abby Arcane. The new character introduced in this tale, "William," is intriguing, and his story does take a dark turn. I'm curious to see how the tapestry is woven between the "Green" of this title, the "Red" of Animal Man, and the mysterious "Black" that's cropped up here and there. It's just, with all due respect to Mr. Snyder and his talented artist Yanick Paquette, I keep wishing they'd get to the point already. It doesn't feel like we've gotten a single complete story in this series yet.

Between the slow pacing of this story and the absence of favorite artist Paquette from well over half this issue's pages, I can't find it in my heart to recommend this book. Skip It until the action picks up.

Agree? Disagree? Sound off!

Tomorrow: This week's reviews, and next week's! Marvel: Point One! Incredible Hulk! And Comic Book Comics!

Be here! Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!


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