Friday, 20 April 2018

Re-reading.... the Activity

So, a thing I'm trying to do more of this year is re-read old series within my comic book collection. This is primarily so that I can trim down my comic book collection, determine what I still enjoy and what I don't and make moves to dispose of the latter while keeping the former.

I've already done it with a number of series since the end of November, with series like the Flash Brightest Day and Hellboy: The Wild Hunt gone while Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire staying.

A few weeks ago, while riding the bus to work (which I said I'd stop doing and swap for my bike, but the blasted British weather), I finished reading Nathan Edmondshon and Mitch Gerads' the Activity, a sixteen issue military series which was released through Image starting mid-2012 and finishing late 2014 (and yes, based on that math, there were some big delays during the last few issues).

The Activity follows the exploits of the Intelligence Support Activity, a top secret black ops unit of the American Military who take on the missions which require a level of problem solving no one else can do (in a very A-Team fashion). This series follows the exploits of the ISA's primary 5-man unit, Team Omaha, as they partake in hostage rescues, enemy captures, traitor's executions and beyond in the (secret) service of their country.

I remember when I first bought this series it was due, in large part, to Nathan Edmondshon's name being on the cover. With the (then) recent conclusion of Who is Jake Ellis? and that series impressing me greatly, the fact that he almost immediately followed it with this ongoing series with a beautifully compelling cover just made the Activity too much of a must buy. This, to my recollection, made the purchase of this series something I didn't regret, despite some long delays between the later issues, it turned out to be a very pleasant read.

Jump to the present and I'm happy to say that the same still rings true, despite some more obvious problems cropping up (possibly because now I'm a more cynical individual).

Unlike my past memory, the Activity doesn't have the best start to its run with the stories contained in its first couple of issues feeling a bit clunky and lack in its ability to draw me in. This is possibly down to the writers attempt to get comfortable with this new world while simultaneously trying to give the reader all the pertinent information. Unfortunately, for me, while it succeeds in telling about all the players, it struggles to capture like it did all those years ago.

Fortunately, from issue 3 this changes. The writing seems to find its footing and the self enclosed stories with the bare minimum of ongoing plot thread feels a lot more fluid and engaging. Even after the concept changes and a more overall 'big bad' villain appears in the latter half of the series, I found Edmondshon's writing remained very compelling with some great, detailed characters who all share the spotlight with no single main character (which I think is a rarity in comics these days), one of whom I'm kinda sad to see go midway through. 

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the done-in-one format that remains predominant through the run, as it feels like a breathe of fresh air compared to other books, being a better example of being able to pick up any issue and enjoying it without missing too much information. That said, this line of thinking isn't across the board as there are two flashback issues (ironically drawn by covering artist Marc Laming) which I really struggled to get behind, as they seem to lack the more compelling state of the current day issues. However, I don't think this is do with the art, but simply a change from the writing style employed which just didn't sit right with me and isn't actually from a lack of talent, merely a personal preference.

Speaking of the art, I absolutely love the artwork provided in this series. Mitch Gerads, whom I hadn't ever heard of prior to this series, offers an incredible gorgeous and realistic take on this military world which looks incredibly fitting as well as it seems to give an (presumably) accurate portrayal of the military while still making the visuals compelling. What gives it an edge though is Gerads' use of computer-like location boxes to really sell the hi-tech notion of the series. While I had never heard of him until this series, seeing this art again is a reminder of how he's gone on to bigger and better things like Mr Miracle.

Meanwhile, Marc Laming does an equally stellar job at filling in the gaps left by Gerads with a style not dissimilar to the main artists work. Again, I've seen little of Laming's work prior to this point (and, admittedly, I've seen little after) but I've heard a lot of praise from others for his work and the rationale behind it shows. It's a shame that I couldn't get into the stories on his issues, but my poor reception of those has little to do with the art and makes me wonder why Laming isn't on more high profile books (though, maybe he is and I don't see them).

Sadly, I found that what is a good series is brutally let down by its final issue. I recall upon issue 16's release, after many months delay, I enjoyed the issue possibly due to the issue finally arriving and the series finally resolving. However, on this occasion I got to read the series back to back and unfortunately, compared to the rest of the series, this issue just doesn't stand up. The problem I found was that it felt like both creators simply wanted to get the series finished, with the story feeling badly written and the art looking a bit rough compared to the prior issues. This led me to not get as engrossed in the issue as I had done with many of the other issues which, given it was the finale, left me on a bit of a downer. That said, on a positive note, the issue did provide a poignant send off for one of the cast which seemed slightly obvious when reading the series in its entirety though no less effective. Despite this however, the final issue left a lot to be desired as it see,ed like only a shell of the other issues in the series.

Nonetheless, the Activity does (for the most part) hold up after all these years, especially in light of the chaotic political landscape we currently see in the news. I do wish that its final issue had ended things on a high compared to what it did do but this series still kept me immersed and entertained and has me planning to keep it around (at least for now) in my collection.

And that's what these re-reads are all about.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

March's comics - The Terrifics #2 and Black Magick #11

So last week, as March ended, the only comics released from my pull list became available. It's rather embarrassing that, despite calling myself a comic book addict, I pick up so few titles. However, that will hopefully changing in the next couple of months so watch this space.

In the meantime though, I read both of my pick ups from the end of March, the Terrifics and Black Magick. Both of these comics were ones which I've been having trouble with regarding its prior instalments; the first issue of the Terrifics and the entire second volume so far of Black Magick.

Therefore, I thought I'd note down my thoughts on both issues, mainly so I could compare with the prior entries just in case, they gave me the same concerns as their respective series had so far.

Fortunately for both, all I have for these issues are good thoughts (mostly).

So, first up is the Terrifics #2, which sees the heroic quartet attempt to leave the dark multiverse after finding Tom Strong's message. However, a lot of surprises turn out to be in store for the four in both their escape and their subsequent return home.

Now, having thought about it, there is very little that I felt fundamentally changed with this issue from the last and, after the first read through, I was beginning to think this title wasn't for me. However, upon a fresh look at it the second time round, the Terrifics felt like a much more entertaining read. With this issue, I thought that the book gained a focus it was lacking in the first issue thanks to the objectives the team was set. While the book still lacked much in the way of background (with the exception of Phantom Girl), I did seem able to look past it this better than the last issue and found the plot more engaging.

Of course, there were still a few niggles, particularly in the other three characters. Metamorpho and Plastic Man continued to have that Thing/Human Torch dynamic which, while I do enjoy, feels a little too carbon copy of the original team up, to the extent that the former pair sound exactly like the latter in my head. Meanwhile, Mr Terrific comes across as a bit of a jackass, particularly with a final decision he makes in the issue, which makes it a struggle for me to connect to how I've always viewed the character. Of course, it may just be that transition as Lemire gets to grips with the characters, but I do hope all three become a little unique and a lot less 'arrogant' respectively, quickly.

That said, I found myself to really enjoy this second outing of the Terrifics. While it wasn't perfect, I thought that the pros outweighed the cons, with yet more great Ivan Reis art being the cherry on top. After I read the last issue I said that I wanted a terrific comic rather than an ok one and, while issue 2 isn't exactly terrific, is certainly moving in that direction.

So, after that, I read Black Magick #11, which finished the second volume of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott's series and saw Rowan finally confront her enemy while Alex finds common ground with an old adversary. With this series, I've found issues six through to ten a struggle to be engrossed in, only managing to find them majorly enjoyable when reading them all together. Therefore, the series has been on borrow time, reaching issue eleven in large part due to the enjoyment of the first five issues.
However, with this most recent instalment I found the story to once again be exciting and engaging. It is here that I felt we got not only a clearer picture of who, specifically, the big bad was but the characters seemed to move forward in regards to their ability to fight back. It occurs to me now that his was deliberate by Rucka, to keep us in the dark as much as Rowan and Alex and allow the series to play out (initially) as a supernatural detective story. If this is the case, then I feel I've given this book a bad rap for the last five issues but, either way, I've found myself not only on board fully with the series but eager for the first time since issue 5 about where they go next.
Of course, I think we have been given an idea due to a two page spread which is so incredibly, gorgeous rendered by Nicola Scott. If the story and/or the writing has been a series of ups and downs from issue to issue, then art has been the constant to keep me coming back. Scott's art is truly amazing and, while I loved her art on Earth 2, in Black Magick she makes that series artwork looking etchings in comparison (a bit harsh maybe as Earth 2 looks great, but Black Magick's visuals are really THAT good). That spread, though, is the standout of the standout and has me pondering what we actually are shown; aspects of the past and future or those with a combination of Rowan's own dreams and/or fantasies? I guess only time will tell.
However, this is time I'm now willing to invest as Rucka and Scott have repaired much of my goodwill for this series with this latest issue, giving me a great deal of interest again for how the story will unfold.
And that's March done. A short month but it certainly gave me a lot to think and talk about. But most importantly, what it gave me was the opportunity to see both of these comics in a new light which, for one, reminded me why I was picking it up in the first place and, for the other, offered a hint of the reason I picked it up.
Now, I can prepare for April's comics, amongst which will be Terrifics true D-Day of whether it stays on my pull list. I'm currently in two minds as to which way it'll go, but I'm hopeful it can succeed.
I guess I'll find out in a month.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Return of the Fantastic Four

So yesterday (well I think yesterday, it might have been Thursday. The days just bleed into one at the moment) I learned, via a Facebook group I'm a part of, that the Fantastic Four are returning!!!


I love the Fantastic Four. Ever since picking up issue 551 way back when for the beginning of Mcaduffie's final arc the beginning of the end (or was it the end of the beginning?), I've collected every issue since and even gone backwards, finding back issues ranging from Lobdell's Heroes Return run, Waid, Kesel and Beyond. The FF are without doubt the backbone of my comic collection and I was gutted by the title's cancellation nearly three years back.

Therefore, it stands to reason that I'd be excited as all hell for the return of Marvel's first family.

However, I'm not. Instead, I find myself oddly concerned by the return of arguably my favourite comic.

So, what is it that has me hesitant about the FF coming back this August? A few things I suppose. First of all, I guess I'm still a little bitter about the comic's cancellation in the first place. Fantastic Four ended back in May 2015, just in time for their awfully bad rebooted movie (which, admittedly, I still haven't seen) by Fox and the rumour at the time was that it ended because Marvel didn't want to advertise a 'not one of their' movies. I thought it was stupid then and the fact they waited until they got the rights back irks me.

There is the the fact that I've kind of reached acceptance of the book being gone. It is said that time heals all wounds and that does seem to be the case here. I watch a series of videos on YouTube by a Professor Thorgi (watch them, they are good), where he has mentioned on a few occasions that he is glad the FF are gone and how they went was such a great swan song for the characters. Now, having thought about this, I think he's actually right and that Reed, Sue, Ben, Johnny, Franklin and Valeria received a fantastic (pardon the pun) end to their story. Therefore, not only have I made my peace with their cancellation, but I fear that their return will destroy what could have been a great end to their story.

This then brings me to me last concern; the creative team. With the announcement of the Fantastic Four's return was the news that their new series would be by Dan Slott writing and Sara Pichelli on art. Now, Pichelli on art I have little to say about. I know that she worked on Ultimate Spider-Man with Bendis, creating Miles Morales, and I think she received a lot of praise for it. However, I know a little bit more about Dan Slott's past work, which is what really worries me. This is because, while Slott wrote a well praised run on the Silver Surfer (which I also didn't read), I know a few people and have heard some other opinions around the Internet who weren't happy with some of the things which happened on his incredibly long Spider-Man run. As a result, while I do think he could do some good cosmic level stories befitting the Fantastic Four, the things which have happened on his Spidey run, along with the longevity of said run, makes me worried about what may happen to the title under his tenure and if it will be equally polarising.

Of course, these are all just my concerns and so they will turn out to be unfounded, with The new series being as good as (if not better than) I last remember it. However, I can't help but be worried given what I know/believe/understand about everything surrounding, not to mention that I've been finding Marvel books to be a little off putting for a while now.

That said, the release of issue 1 is still a few months away and so maybe, between now and then, more information (like the solicits) will come to light which will give me more confidence about the return of the Fantastic Four.