Top 5 Indie Comics for the Week of 2/13/13

Reviews of Star Wars #2, Powers Bureau #1, Bedlam #4, Walking Dead #107, and The High Ways #2

This week, we welcome back the Bendis and Oeming’s Powers franchise with Powers Bureau #1 (Editor’s Note: Yes, we know…technically Icon is part of one of the Big Two, but let’s just overlook that this week, okay? Powers has always been an indie book at heart.), enjoy some classic Star Wars vibes with Star Wars #2, get seriously disturbed by Bedlam #4, a little frustrated by Walking Dead #107, and dig in to some John Byrne goodness with The High Ways #2.

Star Wars #2 (Dark Horse)

“In the Shadow of Yavin: Part Two”

Script: Brian Wood

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Art: Carlos D’Anda

Colors: Gabe Eltaeb

How long had it been since I bought a Star Wars comic? Ten years? More? Like virtually every member of my generation, Star Wars was more than a film franchise and toy line, it was practically a religion. You see, what made Star Wars so special when I was a kid (which, I might add, wasn’t exactly yesterday) was its scarcity. There were three movies, a handful of awful TV specials, and two mediocre cartoons. At the time “Jedi” started becoming synonymous with things like “philosophy” and “religion” in my fevered adolescent brain, there was still very little in the way of an expanded Star Wars universe outside of the Marvel Comics series, which had historically been of infuriatingly inconsistent quality, and eventually ran its course.

Cue the early 90s, and the explosion of Star Wars content. Dark Horse Comics published Dark Empire, Timothy Zahn published the (truly exceptional) Thrawn Trilogy that kicked off with Heir to the Empire, and suddenly, Star Wars was back, in spirit, if not in celluloid. I was never a religious consumer of the novels or the various Dark Horse series, but I dabbled. I was less interested in the further adventures of Han, Luke, and Leia than I was in stories about the Jedi of the distant past, and things like that. Eventually, though, the Star Wars expanded universe, particularly that of the comics, became, well…as convoluted and seemingly impenetrable as any other family of comic book titles.

So, cue Dark Horse’s new Star Wars title. Free of subtitles, and free of baggage, it returns the Star Wars universe to its most primal state: the period between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. This could be tricky. You either nail these voices or you fail hard, and you don’t wanna be the one to fail. Luckily, Brian Wood knows what he’s doing and Carlos D’Anda’s art gets the job done. So what about Star Wars #2? Well, if you liked the first issue, this is more of the same. Leia (along with Luke) has formed a secret team to not only find a new Rebel Base, but also to figure out who’s leaking secrets to the Empire. Han Solo and Chewbacca are off on a secret mission of their own.

This is Leia’s book, really. It’s nice to see a page spent on the fact that, not that long ago, this is a young woman who was forced to watch as her planet was destroyed. Between that and the continued focus on the dichotomy between her role as a politician and that of a Rebel soldier, Wood really shored up her character. One of the best things about Star Wars #2 (and this series so far) is that it appears committed to staying in the moment. In other words, despite a cameo from someone we all will come to know and love in Empire Strikes Back, there are no cute nudge/wink moments to future Star Wars events. There’s no “we know something you don’t know” with Luke and Leia, or even Vader. Wood plays it straight with the audience, and doesn’t cheat the franchise of its important cinematic moments down the line.

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review by: Mike Cecchini

Story: 7/10

Art: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

Powers Bureau #1 (Icon)

Story: Brian Michael Bendis

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Art: Michael Avon Oeming

WOW! Now that’s what I call a comic book. The rejuvenated creator-owned Powers series is back in business with the release of Powers Bureau #1 and business is booming. That’s right; Deena Pilgrim and Christian Walker are in the big leagues of Federal law enforcement now. Admittedly, I am a Bendis-ite, a loyal fan of all his work. Maybe it’s because the first thing I was ever given to read as a “real” grown-up at a “real” job was a script of his classic work Jinx. (I gave the script a “recommend” which in movie speak is far better than “pass” or “consider.”) From then on, I devoured anything he released. But back to the return of Pilgrim and Walker in all of Powers Bureau’s NC-17 glory.

Normally, I intensely dislike the concept of constant flashbacks but Bendis and Oeming manage to make it work. It’s still readable and ties well into the new story. Flashbacks and scenes from the past work far better in comics than they do in movies and TV. Maybe it’s just the format, but Bendis & Oeming are like a Wimbledon winning doubles tennis team able to communicate without speaking. The art somehow manages to match the words. To tell you the truth, outside of Powers, I don’t particularly care for Oeming’s work. But with Powers I can’t imagine another artist doing the job.

It’s a time to rejoice having Pilgrim and Walker back together and the first issue layers itself perfectly on what’s been going on in the Powers-verse. Walker has gone MIA but Pilgrim has a tip on his location. For now she has bigger issues: Powers sperm is being sold on the black market. Apparently women have been buying up the guy goo for a hundred grand a pop and so far four uteruses have exploded in their failed experiment to have a Power-ful kid of their own. The adult nature of the Powers book has always added extra credibility to the property which is probably why they are having such a difficult time making the comic into a live-action series. Pilgrim and her new partner eventually catch the Power responsible for making the baby-batter in the act and during the arrest things literally get sticky. But Pilgrim is as tough as always and has a biting quip about the ridiculousness that was her first Federal case.

The comic then switches back in time to see what Pilgrim has been through and how she somehow is always able to find trouble lends itself to the strength of Deena’s character. She can’t stay away from what she is best at and it’s recognized by the new head of the FBI, Director Lange, who just happens to be a Power herself. She hired Pilgrim because she’s the best at what she does and by issues end, she and Walker are reunited and back on the job.

This is definitely a wonderful jumping-on point for new readers and if you enjoy it, I cannot recommend all of the previous volumes of Powers highly enough. I promise that you will tear through them voraciously, asking yourself why you never got into the series. Powers Bureau #1 has rewarded my faith in a series that I thought was dead for sure, especially with Bendis seemingly writing the entire Marvel Universe these days. Still, seeing Pilgrim and Walker together again just feels right. Welcome back guys, I didn’t realize how much I missed you both.

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“Chapter 4: If I Started Talking About Religion”

Story: Nick Spencer

Art: Riley Rossmo

Covers: Frazier Irving

A nun walks into a room looking for her priest only to find him electrocuted to a smoking, meaty crisp, naked in a bathtub while an equally naked serial killer with angel wings watches through a window. Yeah, that’s what type of book this is. Nick Spencer and the boys at Image continue to bring the shock and horror with Bedlam, the series that dares to ask: what if the world’s most vile spree killer was cured and now helps the police?

The issue opens with the former killer Filmore Press face-to-face with The First, the only super-hero in the city of Bedlam and the man who ended Press’ crime spree. The police want Press to confess to a theme of religious themed killings, and they believe the First is just the man to get that confession. The only problem is, Press didn’t do it, and he sincerely wants to help catch the killer in the angel wings.

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Bedlam #4 serves as a reminded that this book isn’t about the First, Press, or any one member of the cast. This book is about the city of Bedlam. Bedlam, as the name certainly suggests, is a brutal landscape of chaos and murder, and Spencer presents the idea that the only man that could bring order to the city is a former master of chaos. Spencer uses the character of Detective Acevedo as the reader’s eyes and ears. Acevedo has a detective’s keen sense of order, and the ability to see the city through her eyes shows just how horrific a setting Bedlam is.

As the First questions press on the roof, Acevedo and her fellow detectives find a pattern to all the angel’s victims. It seems there was a church sex scandal in Bedlam (because this book doesn’t break enough taboos, I guess), and the angel’s victims were all sexually abused witnesses in the scandal. Suddenly, Acevedo realizes what the readers already knew; Press is innocent and sincere in his need to help.

Rossmo draws one disturbing comic, make no mistake. When the nun walks in on the charred priest, the page almost wafts with the stench of burnt flesh. The scenes with the angelic killer are surreal and disturbing as Rossmo combines the holy images of the Christian angel and juxtaposes it with images of death, depravity, and calculated mutilation.

The great thing about Spencer’s characters is their self awareness. Press knows that his story is unlikely and no one in their right mind would believe that history’s greatest murderous mind would attempt to help the police. In fact, Press had the murder solved, but knew if he mentioned the religious angle, Acevedo would just think him crazier. In order to find redemption, Press must struggle to alter the unalterable perceptions about his true nature.

Upon opening the book, one would think nothing could top the image of the burnt priest in terms of sheer shock. But as the naked angel enters a hospital carrying an arsenal, Spencer proves that this is a book that will continue to top itself. Enter at your own risk. Bedlam has quickly risen to be, arguably, the best horror comic on the market today.

review by: Marc Buxton

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Story: 9/10

Art: 7/10

Overall: 8/10

 

Walking Dead #107 (Image)

Writer: Robert Kirkman

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Artist: Charlie Adlard

Walking Dead #107 begins with an anger-driven battle between Rick and Negan. Negan alludes to a dead Carl, which starts a battle that eventually leads to Rick taking a bite out of Negan’s arm. However, Negan quickly stops the madness that has ensued, calms Rick down, and brings out Carl, who is still alive and unharmed. Negan reveals that he was just trying to get a rise out of Rick (dude, that’s just twisted!).  Negan goes on to persuade Rick into believing that he’s a reasonable man, as he should’ve killed Carl, and Rick, but hasn’t hurt either of them. This leads to Rick trusting Negan, at least for now, possibly changing his view on the necessity to get rid of Negan. We also are starting to get a glimpse into Michonne’s softer side, as she is just trying to get laid.

Robert Kirkman is usually a favorite writer of mine, but this Negan storyline doesn’t show his true colors. The last few issues have just been emphasizing that Negan is a crazy bastard. Okay, we get it; can we move on now? Walking Dead #106 left us with a cliffhanger from Negan saying, “I can’t wait until you see what I’ve done to your little boy.” But, here’s the thing: NEGAN DIDN’T DO ANYTHING TO CARL. This was an unwarranted cliffhanger that did little to enrich the story, and I was expecting a lot more out of this issue because of it.

Charlie Adlard’s artwork looks good, but can I officially make a plea to switch Walking Dead to color? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The novelty of black and white is wearing thin, and for a usually gruesome comic book, it warrants a lot of color (particularly red). Maybe I’m alone here, but I’d like to see the rest of the books look as great and colorful as their covers usually are.

I’m not going to rate this issue highly just because it is my favorite comic book series. Walking Dead has gotten away from what made it great in the first place–zombies!  Where are the damn zombies? The closest thing to a zombie in this issue is Rick biting Negan, and that just won’t cut it. While I do understand that not every issue can be action packed and littered with zombies, I think Kirkman is going a little too far with the character development. Overall, Walking Dead #107 is an unwelcome break from the action that is middling, at best.

review by: Robert Bernstein

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Story: 6/10

Art: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

 

The High Ways #2 (IDW)

“Snowball”

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Writer and Artist: John Byrne

Colorist: Leonard O’Grady 

Sometimes I wonder if John Byrne catches so much flack for his, shall we say, unique personality, that people forget just how important he’s been. When you look back at Byrne’s body of work, the guy has done historic runs on Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men, and Superman, and some tremendously underrated Captain America work. There are people out there, though, who will pick up ANYTHING Byrne puts his name on. There are Next Men devotees, and I even have some friends who bought Trio. Yes. Trio.

I don’t know what it was that made me decide to give The High Ways a shot. The title of the book is rather unappealing, and I can’t remember the last time I bought/read any of John Byrne’s creator-owned stuff. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was my conscience. I recently tore through his legendary Fantastic Four run, and I can safely say that’s worthy of every bit of praise (and more) that you’ve ever heard about it. The guy can just flat-out draw. Not only that, he can tell a story. And I was in the mood for another sci-fi book, hence my decision to take a chance on the High Ways.

What The High Ways is, at heart, is an old-fashioned sci-fi novel. Not a space opera with lasers and hyperspace or anything like that. High Ways reads like it’s set in the world of authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, or Robert Heinlein. Essentially, it’s about “space truckers” hauling cargo from one end of the solar system to the other. We have our archetypical, grizzled captain, our equally grizzled (but quirky: see her tie-dyed space suit) spaceworthy assistant, and the newbie just getting his space legs. It’s predictable, comfortable stuff, but if you’re a fan of the sci-fi authors I mentioned, you’ll feel right at home when you dig in to this.

Unsurprisingly, their routine cargo haul is turning into a mystery, with a space station full of eccentric characters behaving strangely, and the mystery of who could possibly be running around, apparently naked, out in the vacuum of space. Byrne’s art is, as usual, very good, and that should come as no surprise to anyone. His dialogue is fine (despite one head-scratching reference to obscure Dick Tracy character “Sparkle Plenty.” Seriously? What year is it, again?), and the story moves along quite well. I get the feeling that when High Ways completes its four issue run, it’ll read quite well as a graphic novel.

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If none of this sounds like the most enthusiastic recommendation of the book, forgive me. I did rather enjoy it. My only reservation is that it might seem a little quaint or old-fashioned for some modern comic fans. But if you’re a fan of the kind of plausible science fiction that you’d see in novels like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, then The High Ways should make you feel right at home.

review by: Mike Cecchini

Story: 6/10

Art: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

 

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