Thursday, 21 September 2017

Heroes for Hire Vol. 3

This is a post that has been six years in the making, but this weekend just gone, with my infant son's nap affording me a nice 3 hour window, I decided it would be a good time to read the entire Abnett and Lanning run on Heroes for Hire.

A little backstory. This series came out from the Daredevil 'Shadowland' event and, because I was interested by the premise and creative team, I picked up the first three issues. However, Heroes for Hire, just didn't do it for me and by that third issue I'd dropped the series, picking up the remainder in back issue boxes and off of eBay. Despite having the whole run, however, I've never read the series in its entirety.

That is until now of course because I'm in the process of clearing out and selling off some of my comic book collection and this is one series which is up for the chop. However, before I do that (or, rather, in order to make that final decision), I thought I'd actually go through the whole run.

So, to the topic at hand. Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire is pretty much as the title suggests; heroes of the Marvel universe are hire to complete jobs a la the A-Team. However, this volume differs in the tried and tested approach as it sees Misty Knight fronting the new Heroes for Hire with a little help from top Mercenary Paladin. Throughout this run Knight is 'control', the omnipresent voice who request a rotating cast of heroes every issue or two to complete missions on her behalf. The only problems is, while Misty may think she's 'control' she isn't 'in control', as a unknown figure appears to be pulling the strings, using Heroes for Hire to their own end.

Now, as I had said previously, I had problems with this series originally and my problem was that, while it delivered it's promise of a rotating selection of characters, I had expected more of a done-in-one format, essentially a series of one-shots showing off different missions. What I wasn't expecting was the larger arc involving villains pulling the strings.

However, time and hindsight are wonderful things because now, after the reading the entire run in full, I found Abnett and Lanning's Heroes for Hire to be a lot more enjoyable than I did upon it's original release. Once again, the opening three issues were a tough hump to get over as, for the second time, I had issue getting invested into the whole 'who really control's Heroes for Hire?' idea which certainly became the main crux by issues 4 and 5. However, once I got past this (about the end of issue 5) and the reveal of the bigger bad, I actually found myself a lot more interested.

That said, the main draw for me WAS the heroes who would appear and I've got to admit I did find this a joy second time round, especially as I got into the latter issues. This Heroes for Hire contained a number of (at the time) B and C list heroes (if you can call them that), some of whom have moved up in the world since then, but there were certainly some standouts for me that made me wonder if I've been focusing on the right books over the years.

These characters included Moon Knight and Silver Sable, who was absolutely bad ass consistently through the series (I've got to get the former's Ellis/Shavley run), The Shroud, who I read in Daredevil but I found much more interesting while partnered with Elektra, Gargoyle (who I've never heard off until now), Stingray, who has a brief cameo in the last issue but looks so cool I wish I'd paid him more attention, and, of course, Paladin, who was a seriously interesting character and has me tempted to recheck him out in Thunderbolts (he was in there I think?).

Of course, what helps me find all these characters impressive was the art, which I thought was pretty damn solid throughout. Main artist Brad Walker gives a really gorgeous house style amongst his issues, something I think is equally matched by Robert Atkins and even Tim Seeley when he's pre-Grayson on their issues. The only falter I could see amongst the drawing talent was Kyle Hotz, who pencilled amongst the Fear Itself arc with a style which really threw me as it looked so rough compared to the others. That said, as I read I thought it suited the rather chaotic story surrounding that tie-in and by the end, I did find myself enjoying it just as mush as the others.

In fact, I've got to admit that the Heroes for Hire Fear Itself tie-in was really good, to the point that I was stunned. I had expected something which felt shoe-horned (because it's an event tie-in) and, while it was, Abnett and Lanning managed to chisel out a pretty nice story which fit nicely into both the event and their own arc.

Looking back, I think that the reason I dismissed Heroes for Hire was because it wasn't what I was expecting, as I figured it would be more high brow given it came from the guys who brought us Annihilation and restarted Marvel Cosmic. That said, after giving this run a second chance, I'm glad I gave Heroes for Hire the second chance I think it deserved. This run is a fun read with some great art and showcases some awesome visuals of heroes I might never have given a second thought to.

In fact, because of that last point, I'm pretty tempted to keep the series for now and putting something else up for the chop.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Locke & Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows

The final trade of my recent week's holiday (though, I say recent but in reality it's been something like six weeks) was volume three of Locke and Key; Crown of Shadows.

This was because Locke and Key series had so far been nothing short of phenomenal in my eyes and, therefore, it made sense to read another instalment in order to round off a pretty great reading week.

This arc saw the Locke kids continue to get used to their new lives and the secrets of their home as the mysterious Dodge made moves to acquire all the keys of the house. However, when his in the shadows efforts to find the black key don't give him the success he hopes for, Dodge makes moves to acquire the titular Crown of Shadows. With this he creates himself a shadowy army in order to capture Tyler, Kinsey and Bode and find what he is looking for, a plan which takes some unforeseen turns, leading to an all out punch up with a larger than life Tyler.

Locke & Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows
With this volume, Lock and a key once again knocked it out of the park for me, being yet another part of this truly fantastic story. I am absolutely flawed with this book which feels like something which contains so many different genres, from young adult to horror to mystery, but all perfectly merged into one. What I love about this series has to be a couple of things, the first being how incredibly interesting all the characters are, especially each of the Locke kids, but also the vile, love to hate 'Dodge' who comes across as the perfect villain.

The other thing I love is just how well the story is written in general, while the whole idea is completely bizarre and unusual, it just feels completely grounded and relatable, so it doesn't feel too detached from real life. I'm not sure I can put fully into words just why this series is so great, but Joe Hill has something so compelling and special here that I now see how so many people have praised, either directly or indirectly, to me.

The same can be said for the art as Gabriel Rodriguez's style is just sublime. Again, I thought this looked very grounded but a little different, with it looking more predominantly like a young adult type style and being very easy on the eye. But also, Rodriguez showed me a real awesome imagination which he obviously employs as well as some real nice homage's, in this volume being the shadow creatures and, specifically, Bode's Peter Pan-esque shadow, which I had to do a double take on when I saw it.

In truth, I could probably ramble on about this book and this series on and on, not really making much sense to anyone but me. However, this wouldn't change the fact that this has been a fantastic read since the first page of the first volume and, again, a fantastic read for this volume specifically. As with the comics I've read this week, I'll happily get the remaining volumes for each series, but this might just be the one which takes precedence when spare funds are available.

And, with that, my holiday reading is over and so back I go to finding scraps of time to read the odd comic in. However, this was a lot of fun and makes me a little more amenable towards holidays in the future.

I'll just have to get more reading material ready before then.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Gotham Central Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen

The penultimate read of my recent holiday I went back and forth on which trade I would go through. It was a toss up between the second volume of Gotham Central or something else, most likely the third volume of Locke and Key.

Well, fortunately, I decided to stick my original plan and read Gotham Central volume 2: Jokers and Madmen and see if this could be a better book than its predecessor.

In volume two of Gotham Central, entitled Jokers and Madmen, Brubaker, Rucka and (for the most part) Lark continue to tell the stories of the officers who work in Gotham police's Major Crimes Unit. This time round, the book starts with an overview of the team and the detectives who work within it by Stacy, the civilian administrator. This is then followed by a Christmas case where a crazed sniper grips the city in fear by going on a killing spree, leaving Montoya, Allen and co. on a race against time. Then comes a case with most the team getting involved to investigate a couple of murders relating to a drug company and maybe even the mob. Finally, the book finishes with a cold case picked up by Driver and MacDonald about the bombing of a baseball team which is going nowhere until new evidence comes to light. However, to move forward, the duo will have to speak with the original case officer, former cop Harvey Bullock.

Gotham Central: Book 2: Jokers and MadmenSo, all in all, an incredibly full trade in my opinion, which may have been due to it being eleven issues (I think) and not ten like the last trade. However, while it may have been longer, I don't think that this volume exceeded the previous one in terms of my enjoyment.

That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable because, once again, I did really enjoy this collection. Brubaker and Rucka have created some incredibly compelling characters, all of whom having fantastic character traits which make me route for them even when they feel like jackasses. This is a testament to these two creators as every character within this cast really feels like an essential part to me and every loss feels brutal and heartbreaking.

For me this is enough to make me enjoy it, although the only reason this trade doesn't beat out volume 1 is because the stories feel overly long, whereas I enjoyed the stories (particularly the first couple) previously. However, that's not to say these cases are bad because they aren't, especially the Driver/MacDonald case, but it's just a case of preference.

The art is much he same on this volume as Michael Lark once again gives me fantastically beautiful art to gaze at. One page in particular, an eight panel page showing all the different partnerships, is absolutely incredible and makes all invite be future changes to the roster hard for me deal with (I struggle with change). It also makes me want to blow up the page and make a poster out of it.

However, I did struggle with the opening issue which, having not been drawn by Michael Lark but by Brian Hurtt, does not look the same  the rest of the series (obviously). That said, the style isn't a bad style and it is softer than Larks but it's just that, by this point, I'm more than happy with what Lark has done to give Gotham Central and signature style and so am not really feeling a difference.

But this problems are not really problems at all, just my own personal issues, and they don't change the fact that Gotham Central is an awesome series and one I need to get to the end of (although, given how I read Final Crisis: Revelations, I fear I may already know what that'll be).

Anyway, enough about that, on to the final book from my holiday; Locke and Key volume 3; Crown of Shadows.

 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Daredevil #21-25: Supreme

Ok, another break between the ramblings of those Trades I read while on holiday (which was a while back now I think about it.

Late last week I finally picked up Daredevil #25 and so, felt it was time to go through the entire arc and write down what I thought about it (given that it's been a while since I talked about new comics).

Therefore, over the course of this past weekend I read Daredevil #21-25 in it's entirety to remind myself what had been happening in this latest story arc; Supreme.

'Supreme' sees the Man without Fear Matt Murdock, fresh off of his confession about how he regained his secret identity, deciding to put his master plan into action. Roping in some of his friends and allies to help him take out and armed gang of thugs, Matt uses this as an excuse to approach his boss with a bold plan; to place Daredevil on the stand to give evidence and open the door for other heroes to do the same. However, not everyone is happy with this plan as the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, takes steps to put a stop to this motion, either by killing Murdock's case or killing the man himself.

Now hopefully I haven't laid any spoilers out there, although it does occur to me about how complex this story actually is. That said, regardless of it's complexity, after coming off of the 'Running with the Devil' arc I was really excited to see what Charles Soule was going to offer here, given his prior career and how his run has really pulled me back in since I jumped back onto Daredevil.

And, thankfully, this plot doesn't disappoint as I really enjoyed the legal manoeuvring of seeing Matt try to change the law and allow his superheroic persona to have more influence on his day to day. I will admit though that I do feel a little let down by the story, as though I was expecting something greater and more epic with these issues. After Dark Art and Running with the Devil, Soule's run felt like it was leading up to something and I really thought that this would be the 'Magnum Opus' of his run, the best part that he had been leading up to.

Of course, that doesn't take away from how good it was as I enjoyed seeing Matt as the hero instead of Daredevil, making for a nice change of pace. What I really enjoyed though were some of the character appearances which occurred here as not only does She-Hulk show up (in a way that makes me tempted to check out her most recent run) but also the character known as Legal from Soule's own She-hulk run. This character in particular, who seemed one note in that She-Hulk run, was much more intriguing here, especially with his speech about the law being fiction. This speech along with a more optimistic one by Daredevil kinda has me wondering if this is why Soule is now a writer and not a Lawyer; due to a somewhat paradoxical view on his former occupational field.

The art meanwhile was also pretty solid.... to begin with. Goran Sudzuka's art in the issues 21 and 22 was gorgeous and really gave me a reminiscence of Paolo Rivera's work during the early Waid run. It was just so beautiful and stylish and I'd have happily gazed upon this style for the whole arc. Sadly, that wasn't to be as the final three issues were drawn by Alec Morgan and, most likely because of this, the arc went downhill.

Sadly, I just wasn't a fan of Morgan's work in these later issues, with issue 25 looking nowhere near the quality of issue 25 through my eyes. The characters in particular didn't look particularly great in these three issues, with them all looking rather rough in their faces. As a result of this, I found myself struggling to get into those final issues and only by reading them as a bulk read was I able to actually enjoy the story.

Despite that though, I did enjoy this arc very much (though maybe not as much as I had expected it to) and found the end of it (which could have stuck with the status Quo) a little inspiring and optimistic. This end also gave me a nice teaser for what is to come down the road, which excites me (while also bothers as I may not be able to afford it when it gets here) and does make me glad I gave Charles Soule's run a second chance.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gotham Central Vol. 1: In the Line of Duty

So, after a slight gap to talk about something else, I'm now onto talking (earlier in the week, as I'm want to get these done before my trip becomes too much of a distant memory) about the fourth comic trade I read while on holiday and, with each subsequent day, these books have gotten increasingly better and more enjoyable from one to the next.

But number 4 could quite possibly the best of them all, even those which come after it!

So, fourth on my list is volume one of Gotham Central, the police procedural comic by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark which follows the hardworking cops of the G.C.P.D.'s Major Crimes Unit as they struggle to catch the bad guys (both super and regular) in a city which is home to the Batman. This trade contains three separate stories which sees the unit chase mr Freeze after the death of one their own, then attempt to catch an arsonist and a child killer at the same time before the great Renee Montoya finds herself outed and set up for a murder, before being kidnapped by a classic Bat rogue.

Gotham Central: Book 1: In the Line of DutyNow I say that this is the best book of the week while only being halfway through it, but I seriously doubt that I'm exaggerating. Brubaker and Rucka have produced three truly fantastic stories, all of which drew me in deep and kept me totally engrossed as to how they would conclude. The way they developed the characters was also something I really enjoyed as both men filled Gotham Central with a tremendous cast; from Sawyer, Montoya and Allen to Davies, Chandler and even Fields in his limited appearance.

I think what really loved about this book though was that, while it is a Bat book in theory, it almost completely disregards the need for Batman, making him feel tolerated instead of required and the Gotham's finest can do the job just as well (to a point). I like this because it contradicts the popular theory which Batman '66 sold us about them.

Then, of course, there is the art. I've seen Lark's work on both Daredevil (with Brubaker) and Lazarus (with Rucka) and both look fantastic. But Gotham Central, while maybe a little rougher than the others, still looks equally terrific and I can't believe how perfectly it encapsulates these characters and their lives.

I've heard so much great praise about this series over the years and it kinda almost put me off in fear that it wouldn't live up to the hype. But now I'm here and I've read it and, damn, I wish I'd read it sooner. This is up there as as perfect as a comic book can get in my opinion and kinda hope the rest of the series would be this good.

Fortunately (or maybe 'unfortunately') I will find out soon enough as writing this has convinced me to make volume two the fifth read of the week.

 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Scars

I've decided to take a quick break from dropping the posts about my recent holiday reading to talk about....well, my bank holiday reading.

This weekend just gone I was back down my in-laws when I came across Scars amongst a pile of comics I had left there to store (my own home, as I've mentioned prior, is quite full). Now finding this book was not an accidental thing as I had just previously spoken with my neighbour in my office about it while trying to gauge whether she'd be interested in reading comics.

However, upon finding Scars amongst this discarded selection of trades if occurred to me that, while I have had this title for nearly a decade (roughly since it's 2008 release), I had never actually sat down and read it.

Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the three day weekend and do just that.

Warren Ellis' Scars is essentially a horror/crime fusion of a comic series, containing 6 issues of a story which follows John Cain, a police detective who's seen it all as he returns to his job after a terrible loss. However, his rather tough, seemingly emotionless surface is broken down when investigating the brutal murder of a young girl, a case which takes Cain right to the edge in order to solve it and catch the killer.

Now, I've tried my best to describe the plot as simply as possible in order to prevent spoilers (I think I've done ok) but, while the basic beats are all there, the one thing I haven't mentioned is about how absolutely, gut-wrenchingly brutal this comic is. Pretty much straight from the foreword, we are told repeatedly that this comic is quite a nasty comic and I don't think that's an understatement as the story takes a seriously dark and disturbing path.

There is no better example of this than in the discovery of the victim's body, whereby Ellis offers a reaction to scare us before going all out and showing us it in all it's gruesome glory. This is the first part of the book that actually made me feel quite a bit uncomfortable (and I always thought I had a high tolerance for such things).

That said, this doesn't make Scars a bad book, as I enjoyed how Ellis has put together what feels like a quintessential crime story to the almost noir degree, with the broken cop going rogue in his pursuit of justice. What really made me love it though was Ellis' (and others), notes at the end of each issue, giving some insight into why Scars could be the most realistic crime story going.

However, what I really, truly loved about this book was the art. I've never heard of Jacen Burrows before (or admittedly after), but his work in this is fantastic and goes a long way to selling Ellis' gory vision. I think what I enjoy most is that it isn't regular monochrome, instead looking like it's practically white with some light shading, which I think helps give it a subtler look than most other black and white stories I've read.

The big draw for me though are the Gutters (seriously!!!), which here are all black and, when combined with the panels, gives each page and almost dark photo album vibe in my opinion. But also, what really makes me awe is how they change as the book progresses, looking straight and standard at the beginning but looking more warped and creepy towards the end. It's a small thing (if I've looked at it right), but I enjoyed it.

And I've got to say, that's got to be my answer for the book overall. Sure, it was creepy and dark and maybe a little too brutal, but I enjoyed it. It was a nice story which some killer art and some really cool insights into how the creators made this series. That said, I'm not entirely sure if Scars has any re-readability to it (maybe in another few years when I've forgotten) but it was still a good read and I'm glad to got to check it out.

Even if I do wish I'd gotten to it a bit sooner than I did.