By Molly Jane Kremer, Scott Southard, and Jarrod JonesOur Week In Review collects our thoughts on the comics that demand attention. Do you have a deep-rooted desire to know what we think about all your favorite books? Well. This is where you need to be.

detailQuake: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1

Marvel Comics/$3.99

Written by Matthew Rosenberg & Patrick Kindlon.

Art by: Daniel Warren Johnson; colors by Jason Keith.

JJ: S.H.I.E.L.D. may be turning fifty years old in 2015, but its popularity is as pervasive as ever. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe making characters like Maria Hill and Dum Dum Dugan household names, the ever-expanding legend of Marvel’s league of extraordinary secret agents has intrigued the masses in a way that was previously thought impossible. And because the Inhumans have also become such an important part of this growing universe, undergoing a renaissance of their own mostly due to Fox being stingy with mutants the Inhumans being one of the most under-utilized group of super-people in the Marvel U, it’s time for S.H.I.E.L.D. to participate in some well-earned cross-pollination. Enter: Quake #1.

Part solo-issue featuring Daisy Johnson, and part-covert advertisement for the imminent premiere of ABC’s third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Quake #1 is pretty sweet filler issue, one that lets us relive the halcyon days of Secret Warriors without any of the perpetual angst that came from it. (Though eternal thorn in Nick Fury’s side, Norman Osborn, does get a name drop here.) As a member of Fury’s elite covert team, the friction between Daisy and the acting members of the Avengers puts a pair of handcuffs on her signature gauntlets, but it’s that level of prickly bureaucracy that allows writers Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon to do what they do best, which is to craft a swift, exciting tale about an extraordinary woman thrown into an extraordinary situation. (If you’re not reading their work on Black Mask Studios’ We Can Never Go Home, you are officially lousing up.) And as instigators of the written word, for their first job at the House of Ideas? Rosenberg and Kindlon do a pretty bang-up job of showing how much of a pain in the ass it is to work for the most covert agency in the 616.

As a brisk one-off, Quake does well to prominently display Agent Johnson on a book surrounded on stands by Last Days and Secret Wars, and it uses its limited time (just barely twenty-two pages) to make Daisy as fully realized as (In)humanly possible. But because we’re in fun-time flash-back land, Daisy’s unease with the Avengers in an operation involving Inhumans doesn’t give her the emotional leverage she would otherwise put over on a pushier-than-usual Tony Stark. (And her unfamiliarity with Inhumans leads to a downright gross moment involving undigested food and Captain America that wouldn’t be out of place in that Garth Ennis & John McCrea’s All-Star Secret Warriors book I’ve yet to assign.)

Daniel Warren Johnson kicks out the art for this one-shot brouhaha in true workhorse fashion, keeping the quiet moments intimate while giving the huge, Whedon-esque splash pages a frenetic energy, one that shows us what would happen if Howard Chaykin and Paul Pope decided to collaborate on a killer jam piece. Daniel does Daisy proud, and by extension of that, he does the Marvel Universe a wonderful service.

When you set these working cogs together and apply just the right amount of elbow grease, what you’ll discover is an innately satisfying one-shot featuring one of Marvel’s rising stars that never once feels like a pandering tie-in to Marvel and Disney’s oppressive edifice. I need Rosenberg & Kindlon honing their focus on another book at the moment, but anytime they want to play in the Marvel sandbox? After an issue as assured as this? I’m all about it.

8 out of 10

1426542_xlThe Legacy of Luther Strode #3

Image Comics/$3.50

Written by Justin Jordan.

Art by Tradd Moore; Colors by Felipe Sobreiro.

SS: The actualized embodiment of all our sheepish nerdiness turned righteous power is continuing to move forward, as the third issue of The Legacy of Luther Strode hits the stands. Everyone’s favorite modern Samson continues his benevolent pursuit of Cain, and finds an enjoyable, episodic run-in with The Shooter to keep the story progressing.

The stoic cowboy archetype is almost always a viscerally engaging character to follow. There’s something about the quiet nomad just doing what needs to be done that grabs a nerve and screams honor, respect, and satisfaction. The third issue opens with one such man, The Shooter, firing upon human traffickers of the most disgusting variety. Luther and Co. arrive to reason with him (because Luther just can’t stand all that senseless violence) and to obtain information on the next step of their journey. The rest of the issue plays out like a scene from The Raid, a ping-pong back and forth of respectful brutality that spans a set of skyscrapers and ends with mutual deference all around.

It’s tough to articulate, but the ultra-violence inflicted in this issue is presented in such a hilariously shocking manner. I mean, the quantity of violence is hilarious itself, but the presentation of monstrous creatures nonchalantly destroying the bad guys amid a conversation is ceaselessly tickling. (Think Mortal Kombat instead of Rambo.) It personifies a comic that would otherwise be considered a slightly more nuanced morality play involving The Incredible Hulk.

While the art has always been a hallmark of the series, this issue is particularly vibrant. The beautifully curated color pallette remains an integral part of the action, using a purple, pink, black, and yellow that’s reminiscent of 80’s hair salon decals. The sequences themselves take up multiple pages at a time, giving them room to portray real action sequences that play out in satisfying ways. Tradd Moore lets you watch the punches and gunshots, as well as Petra and Delilah’s crossfire, go back and forth between Strode and The Shooter and he fully employs the surrounding geography in interesting ways that make the rooms and spaces feel utilized. (There’s a particular page halfway through the issue that depicts a staircase chase in a way that imparts a tense momentum that I’ve never felt outside of a movie theater.)

The sense of strain and pressure in the action scenes is only amplified by the quantity that we’ve grown to love these characters. Petra’s consistent child-like amazement at things that are straight up “cool” is charming. Her diction and syntax make her one of the most human characters in the comic universe. Plus she reprimands her boyfriend for “paternalistic concern for [his] girlfriend,” in a way that one would actually call out their partner. When Luther knowingly acknowledges his paternalism and continues to fight for righteousness, we fall in love with the both of them all over again.

All of Luther Strode is cinematic, in a way. We identify with these paradigmatic characters and follow them through traditional epics. The only thing that’s different from Homeric epics or Biblical stories is the skins thrown on top. We know who we’re supposed to like, who to hate, and who to be wary of. There are only a few issues left of the entire series, and I don’t expect anything Earth-shattering to actually occur. And that’s fine; I’d be perfectly content just to watch Luther rumble through a few more evil-doers until he at last gets the job done. 

8 out of 10

1459896_xl (1)Batman #44

DC Comics/$4.99

Written by Scott Snyder & Brian Azzarello.

Art by Jock; colored by Lee Loughridge.

JJ: This. This is what it means when you use the word “timeless”.

The forty-fourth issue of Batman is a prime example of deft and incredibly nuanced comics storytelling. It’s a book that recalls the works of Bat-creators from not-so long ago; not just from the O’Neils and the Engleharts, but from the Moenchs and the Millers as well. It’s a street-level Batman story told like any good Batman story ought to be told: lurid, captivating, honest, and thoroughly devastating. But most importantly, it’s a prime example of what’s possible when professionals take the format to which they’re committed and make it relevant to the world beyond. So let’s revise. This is what it means when you use the word “important”.

It’s a story that could easily fill an entire installment of Batman: Black and White, an outside-continuity anthology series that distilled the essence of the Dark Knight into his most potent and primal form: a strange, righteous creature who stalks prey that may not know it needs to be punished, a dauntless crusader who only rests when the sun’s piercing beams begin to stretch along Gotham’s narrow, broken streets. It’s a story I actively wish for every time I pick up a book titled Batman.

It’s also a Batman story that resides within the confines of the world Scott Snyder and dozens of writers set into place at the beginning of the New 52. And while those confines usually demand a more universally-accessible bent to its stories (for instance, Batman‘s latest villain du jour, Mr. Bloom, makes a trades-friendly appearance), the very presence of Brian Azzarello means that the Hero That Snyder Built is about to be jostled by his cape. Azzarello’s concepts of evil don’t have the cunning precision or grandiosity of a Snyder heavy; rather the 100 Bullets writer depicts evil as something far more primal, something far more innate. (Within continuity, this issue’s Batman has his first volley with a nurtured evil, which provides us this chilling line: “I’m not the bad guy here — I’m just here.”) The alchemy between Azzarello’s realism and Snyder’s ambition is truly the stuff of greatness.

It’s the ideas Messrs. Snyder and Azzarello employ in this issue that don’t often find their way into superhero comics, and it’s not by accident that these men chose Gotham’s latest lost son (a youth named Peter) to be wrapped in a hoodie, wildly seeking to find some footing in a world crusted over with misuse and societal disease. “So a bad man in an alley selling something monstrous to a desperate kid. In the end, a simple case,” the Batman thinks. Of course, he knows it’s more complicated than that. We know it’s far more complicated than that.

It’s in this moment that Snyder, Azzarello, and artist Jock — who provides us a career-defining display of talent — place Batman over the city he attempts to protect, as the words he’s read of the world that envelops him unfurl into a chasm of pain, corruption, misery, and neglect. Reason can be found in there somewhere. But it will take more than just him to find it.

Ideas like that haven’t come from a superhero comic in a very long time.

10 out of 10

1436588_xlSuiciders #6

Vertigo/$3.99

Written by Lee Bermejo.

Art by Lee Bermejo; Color by Matt Hollingsworth.

SS: I’d like to preface this review with the fact that Bloodsport is on my Mount Rushmore of action films and that I breathe professional wrestling more than I breathe oxygen. I also have a soft spot for the episode of Walker: Texas Ranger where Chuck Norris fights Randy Savage in a prison deathmatch. I feel like it’s important to point out that on surface levels, the story of a dystopian future where mixed martial arts has turned into a deadly spectacle with cybernetic human enhancements fueled by money, betrayal, and broken hearts would fit entirely into the wheelhouse of things I love.

Unfortunately (yeah, you knew that was the next word), Suiciders does all the right things wrong, and feels like a pale imitation of something that could have been a beautifully futurized throwback to the narratives that brought us the beginnings of JCVD’s ability to do the splits anytime, anywhere.

Mostly with action movies, you go on expecting tastelessness in all forms. With that comes streaks of misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc. It’s a frustrating thing, but at least we get to feel like we’re above it when we view it all ironically. It’s a little rougher in comics. The intent makes itself present. The dialogue is necessarily sparse, so every word counts. And when lots of those words are slurs (from protagonists and antagonists alike), they seem purposeful, and in turn, oppressively offensive… Suiciders’ tone-deaf attempt to paint a book as thematically “tough,” “edgy,” or “intense” is a quick way to make a book damnably objectionable. Thrown into the mix is the added slasher violence enacted on naked women, and that doesn’t help its case.

Following the first five issues, Suiciders #6 reeks of an attempt to attain Palahniuk-esque auteurship within the comic world. It’s the side of the spectrum that bums me out about Vertigo. We don’t need another Bukowski in comics, we need more Didion and DeLillo. I’m no Virgin Mary, but the consistently confused (as in, the author is confused) angles at which he approaches spirituality and Christianity come off as attempts at edginess rather than true commentary on how religion functions in Western civilization. Same goes with the exploration of class and social structure. The metaphors don’t feel parallel or apt. Sure, I get that there’s a wall that separates the rich from the poor, but the comparison falls flat once we begin to dig deeper into the attitudes of folks on either side.

It’s six issues in, we’ve rounded out the initial story arc, and I still haven’t figured out who I’m supposed to like. At least Walter White and Tony Soprano had the frayed remnants of love or family or the ties to ideals worth aspiring toward. This makes Suiciders doubly tough to get through, as aside from the rampant sexism, the story itself doesn’t have any legs. The stakes haven’t been raised since day one, and even if we’d been given someone to root for, there wouldn’t be a reason provided in the storyline to do so. Neither is any backstory fully explained, nor is it vague enough to be an ethereally uniform story that fits all shapes and sizes. The character arcs are flat, the backstabs meaningless, and can someone explain to me why the gladiators (and the title in turn) are called “Suiciders”? It’s such a dope name for a comic, just not a comic that has no reason to be called Suiciders.

It should be noted that the concept of gladiatorial mech and/or cyborg arena battles is beautiful, and displayed in a wondrously Running Man-esque manner (BUT WHY DOES HE HAVE BOXING GLOVES IN A MURDERSPORT?). It’s one of the few truly bright moments in the series.

The saddest part is that this isn’t the most offensive comic out there, nor does it have the worst story. It’s just… empty. Directionless without any guts. You can see some of the things that are trying to be done, all the while watching them fall flat. It’s a shame, really. We know that Bermejo can do some impressive stuff (just check out the super fun We Are Robin), but nothing clicks with his attempted tour de force. I’d really love to see a modern reinterpretation of the death match/battle arena play out in a way that is pertinent and aware, or at least compelling and fun. Instead, I feel like another passively disdainful member of the crowd watching the loser lay in the dirt, bleeding out in vain.

4.5 out of 10

Agree? Disagree? Which comics do YOU want us to cover this week? Let us know in the comments below.

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