By Molly Jane Kremer, Andrew Stevens, and Jarrod JonesOur Week In Review serves to fill in the gaps our frequently verbose comic book coverage leaves behind. Each week, we take a brief look into the books that demand attention.

STK6685611Archie vs. Predator #1

Dark Horse Comics/$3.99

Written by Alex di Campi.

Art by Fernando Ruiz and Rich Koslowski; colors by Jason Millet.

JJ: I’ll admit it. I haven’t read an Archie comic since… since I can remember. But I can certainly recall those tremendous digest editions that sat at every single check-out lane of every single grocery store my mother ever dragged me to as a kid. And it’s entirely possible that I actually owned one (maybe two!) in my life; it’s also very possible that I enjoyed reading it. But I’m in my thirties now, and I have to say: Archie ain’t for me. Not anymore.

But the best part about Archie is that he’s not supposed to be. As “America’s favorite teenager” (something that I just know hasn’t been the case since 1958) Archie Andrews has always been the cherubic face of Archie Comics, a company that has become one of the leading progressive voices in the comics industry today. So no matter how trivial I may find the character to be, Archie Comics stands for something. And I respect that.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure what I expected from Archie vs. Predator, but I do know one thing: if there’s a more diametrically-mismatched pairing in comics, I’ve yet to see it. And as far as that goes, a precedent has been set, and until My Little Pony teams up with Spawn for a six issue mini-series, there will never be anything that tops this in sheer audacity. The galaxy’s deadliest hunter against the hardest crew that ever rolled out of Riverdale High. Only one will survive. Huh. How ’bout that.

My imagination is capable of so much, and my suspension of disbelief has hung from the highest of precipices. And even though we all know that this little “skirmish” would end in four seconds let alone four whole issues, there’s a buck to be turned, and a laugh or two to be had. So who the hell am I to boo-hoo it? I just hope for Archie’s sake that he fares better than Batman ever did.

4.5 out of 10

THOR2014007-DC11-2dcf8Thor #7

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Jason Aaron.

Art by Russell Dauterman; colors by Matthew Wilson.

MJ: There are few mysteries in superhero comics these days that feel bigger than “who’s that lady underneath Thor’s helmet?”

With only a month to go before the big reveal, issue #7 focuses heavily on S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Roz Solomon (a character introduced in Thor: God of Thunder #12 and a main player in the Last Days of Midgard storyline), a gal who I personally think is holding the Hammer – and, to my glee, she is in no way ruled out as a contender. (Which, depending on how writer Jason Aaron is playing this, might mean it’s all a huge red herring to make next month’s disclosure that much more shocking.)

As I knew they would, artist Russell Dauterman and colorist Matthew Wilson render Roz wonderfully, as she kicks all kinds of ass. (A panel on the first page showing her dodging Roxxon baddies’ bullets comes the closest to drawn “bullet time” I’ve seen.) Dauterman gives her the most telling expressions, and he makes the woman’s short hair look as great as the art nouveau gorgeousness found in Malekith’s and Thor’s luscious locks. Honestly, Matthew Wilson’s coloring — from the glaring neons of toxic waste to the gorgeousness of the Rainbow Bridge, to that beautiful final splash page — never ceases to amaze, and goes a LONG way to making this book one of the prettiest on the stands right now.

This issue is chock full of villainy, with Dario Agger and Malekith continuing to have their little tête-à-tête before attacking Alfheim, while Thor is forced to hold off the Destroyer (being controlled by Odin and Cul) on her own. Agger and Malekith’s appearances only consisted of three pages, and felt a bit like a second thought, especially compared to the overshadowing Roz and Thor sequences. Aaron rarely (if ever) inserts a scene without a purpose, however, and though the payoff may not be immediate, one can assume it will occur eventually, and the reward will be huge.

Thor says herself on the final page, “My true story hasn’t even begun. But it’s about to,” and up until now, we’ve barely skimmed the surface in terms of discovering more about her personality and motivations. But somehow, Aaron, Dauterman and Wilson have made the journey to that discovery just as much fun as it could possibly be. This is the last time Thor will be an unknown quantity to us, but the suspense and thrill of this storyline won’t be soon forgotten.

8.5 out of 10

FadeOut_05The Fade Out #5

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Ed Brubaker.

Art by Sean Phillips; colors by Elizabeth Breitweiser.

AS: I’m going gloss over the obvious: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips maintain their artistic mind meld and produce yet another beautiful comic colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser. We already know that the story becomes more complex and engrossing and that the skills of this entire creative team are of the highest order. Instead, I want to focus on what kind of story we’re in and how that crystalizes on one page of The Fade Out #5.

As the cover intimates, this issue focuses on Phil Brodsky as the brutal trumpeter of noir sensibility. Throughout the issue the function of Brodsky serves to remind us of the morally bankrupt landscape our characters inhabit, and how none of them—on the spectrum from evil to amoral to vaguely chivalric—are worth investing any faith. It’s as if Brubaker sought to directly remind us that we are not mired in a mere detective story, but a true noir. As Otto Penzler pointed out in his introduction to Best American Noir of the Century, the two subgenres “are diametrically opposed…noir works are existential, stories about people, including (or especially) protagonists who are seriously flawed.” Those protagonists are often on a doomed quest that will “lead to their ruin.” In firm contrast, American Detectives are drawn deep into dark situations, but “retain their sense of honor.” As the essays attached to so many Brubaker & Phillips single issues can attest, Brubaker is a student of the genre, and clearly has mapped The Fade Out on such a route. In past issues he’s stripped away any honor Charlie Parish and Gil Mason, the revenge-plotting screenwriting duo, might have once had. Though that doesn’t stop us from rooting for them.

In issue #5, more of the studio guild gets worn away to reveal the rot underneath, complicating our feelings toward Gil and Charlie. We learn that Charlie stands not as gallant investigator of the studio’s misdeeds, but as one that is wholly complicit in them (if only as a bystander with limited agency rather than a outright participant).

And finally, after that entire preamble, we arrive at the page that acts as the thesis for the whole series. Late in the issue, Brodsky lectures Gil about Don Quixote, the Don Miguel de Cervantes’ novel about a misguided quester who has read one too many chivalric romances, and gallops about the country causing more harm than good with his sidekick, Sancho Panza. Brodsky’s monologue comes just after he explains how he keeps the studio machinery oiled with his special brand of brutality. It becomes apparent that this hard-assed, no-neck security guard actually reads, as Brodsky pursues his point: “Quixote’s the asshole of the story. His ‘Noble Ideals’ were already a joke three hundred years ago. But trust me…you are the asshole of your story, Gil.” And since it takes a brute like Brodsky to state the plain truth, the stakes are raised considerably.

Our heroes wear their personal mantles awkwardly as their simmering retribution begins to boil, and as Brodsky points out, the world that surrounds them is so corrupt and cynical that they would have to be assholes to try and do anything about it.  The move invests us in our heroes, who (unlike their more noble counterparts the detectives) will compromise all that they believe in to advance on the path of their doomed quest.

9 out of 10

1413799_xlConvergence: Superboy #1

Written by Fabian Nicieza

Art by Karl Moline and Jose Marzan, Jr; colors by Hi-Fi.

JJ: Late last year I found myself in a conversation with two preeminent comic book creators (who shall remain nameless), and even though I was definitely teetering when I should have been tottering, things were going well, until it appeared that our mutual appreciation for comics from bygone eras had reached an impasse. And all I said was, “the Death of Superman was the best thing to happen to contemporary comic books.”

There has been so much time that’s passed since now and that awkward moment, and more than enough of it has been spent on ruminating over whether or not I truly believe that to be true. There’s certainly no doubt that my younger, pre-teenaged self was totally caught up by the Man of Steel’s death, and it’s a fact that the stories that quickly followed made me a comic book reader for life . Totally love it, merely like it, or absolutely hate it, that tumultuous storyarc became an iconic era for not just Superman, but for the DC Universe as a whole. It is most definitely a gritty artifact of its time. But The Death of Superman yielded so many wonderful new characters: John Henry Irons, also known as Steel; Hank Henshaw, the heinous Cyborg Superman (who, up to the New52, was a pretty awesome villain); and my personal favorite, the clone Superman, also known as Superboy (just don’t say that to his face).

Maybe that fateful night would have ended more smoothly had I told those two incredulous men (as I gripped what was probably my twelfth glass of bourbon) that “the Death of Superman was the best thing to happen to Superboy.”

Well, he’s back. The Metropolis Kid has returned to the four-colored pages that have missed him so much. All other incarnations of the character — the Pre-Crisis supergenius that made Lex Luthor go bald; the moody chad who moodily sacrificed himself during Infinite Crisis; the New52 whatever-the-hell-that-was — pale in comparison to the wise-ass with a cloned heart of steel. I’ve missed him dearly.

In fact, I’ve missed him so much that I’m willing to accept this woefully inadequate Convergence tie-in as recompense for the ten-plus years we’ve had to endure a world that didn’t understand how to write Superboy. (Though the reason why DC didn’t employ Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett to handle this mini-series completely baffles me.) Kon-El’s trademark snark is ably deployed by Fabian Nicieza when the writer doesn’t have our de-powered hero moping around (though there’s a lot of that too), and while we’re forced to choke down a lot of Nicieza’s navel-gazing ponderings (“… the only concept more inconceivable than an adolescent wielding the powers of a god… is that same youth losing that power…”), there’s a strange comfort that comes with having our leather-jacketed Superboy flying around. It’s nowhere near enough, but it’ll do.

4 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? What comics are YOU reading this week? Let us know in the comments below.

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