Top 5 Indie Comics Releases for 2/20/13

Reviews of Happy #4, TMNT #19, Saga #10, Black Beetle: No Way Out #2, and Godzilla #10

Bring on the indies! Strong offerings from Dark Horse, Image, and IDW lead the way this week! It’s impossible not to love Saga #10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #19 reminds us why we love that franchise. Black Beetle #2 is pulpy goodness. Godzilla #10 is exactly what you’d hope it is. And Grant Morrison finished up Happy with a flourish!

Saga #10 (Image)

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Artist: Fiona Staples

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Once in a while, a comic comes along that transcends what is happening. Sandman was such a comic, Bone was such a comic, and, yes, so was Watchmen. Today, we have multiple genres running successfully to create a rich and full market bursting with ideas and energy. And Saga transcends it all. Every issue of Saga is an exercise in world and character building. There is no continuity beyond the first issue that a reader needs to know, no preconceived idea of how the characters are or are not supposed to think, do, feel, or behave. Every panel, every word, creates something new and builds upon what came before it. This is an exciting project to witness, and it will set storytelling trends for future generations of comic creators. Yeah, it’s just that good.

Saga #10 starts off with a flashback dealing with how Alana and Marko fell in love. Alana was Marko’s guard in a work prison on her planet of Landfall. In an incredibly sweet sequence, we learn that Alana used to read Marko Landfall literature, and the two bonded over the stories.  Marko soon reveals to Alana he will be transferred to a new prison camp, a place that means certain death for him. Alana betrays her culture by freeing Marko, instantly propelling herself into her own adventure, one that dwarves the stories she and Marko fell in love over. The flashback serves as a framing sequence to Marko and his mother Clara escaping the Midwives, yet another in a long line of hyper-creepy monsters for the lovers and their allies to face.

Every step the characters take reveals a new aspect of Vaughan’s world. This time, mother and son must face some sort of robed vampiric zombie things with upside down heads. Marko and Clara are saved by the returning Izabel, the disembodied, bisected undead babysitter with illusionary powers. Did I mention this book is awesome? The rest of the issue consists of a planet like womb giving birth to its cosmic offspring, Alana getting parenting advice from Marko’s father, Barr, after she thinks she broke her baby, a fevered pursuit of the heroes by The Will, and the last page death of a character that is just pure Vaughan.

Saga never stops, it never rests, and it is either making the reader laugh or pulling the reader’s heart out. It switches point-of-view with the same simplicity that a reader turns the page, and it is never predictable. This is myth-building at its finest, combining the storytelling ideas of Joseph Campbell with modern, fast-paced storytelling from two of modern comics’ masters.

Just as Vaughan builds the world though his characters and his narrative, Staples provides the stunning visuals that propel the story forward. Her characters have a casual body language that forces the reader to fall deeper in love with them every single panel. Her action has a large scale feel without ever losing humanity, and she is a master of comedic timing. This is the comic all creator owned work should aim for. New rule for all future reviews, if a book doesn’t equal Saga, it doesn’t get a 10. Yes, this book sets the standard.

Review by: Marc Buxton

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Story: 10/10

Art: 9/10

Overall: 10/10

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #19 (IDW)

Writer: Tom Waltz

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Artist: Ben Bates

Colors: Ronda Pattison

A year ago, Michael Bay announced that his big screen production and re-imagining of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be altering the origin of the Turtles dramatically. “These turtles [in the reboot] are from an alien race, and they’re going to be tough, edgy, funny, and completely lovable.” Thirteen million nerd sphincters clenched in unison, mine included. How dare they severely alter one of my childhood’s most beloved… things. Taking away their link to Frank Miller’s Ronin and Elektra and eliminating their thinly veiled connection to Daredevil’s origin would surely cheapen and ruin the core concept of the story. I mean, if the turtles are aliens, where would the learn ninjitsu? Is Splinter from a planet of rats? Ninja rats!? And, now Bay has the gall to make them tough, edgy, funny and completely lovable? WHO GAVE HIM THE RIGHT TO… wait.

That’s when I had my moment of clarity about how ridiculous my reaction was.

As I read this issue (which finds the turtles on the planet Neutrino, doing battle alongside space-elves dressed in colors that would make Zack Morris blush, against an army of rockmen led by a beret-wearing super-robot, controlled by a stomach brain with a face) It is once again proven that none of what makes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles enjoyable has a single thing to do with the specific events of their origin. As long as they are what their name signifies i.e. teenagers, mutants (aliens can be mutants), ninjas and turtles (or turtle-like whatevers) the concept works at full blast. I am a traditionalist at heart, admittedly, but as long as the stories are entertaining, I can easily let go of these character’s established roots. Michael Bay’s production may end up monumentally awful, but it will have nothing to do with his announced alterations.

Tom Waltz does a good job doling out the action, while ramping up to next month’s confrontation between the Turtle/Neutrino alliance and the Krang empire. The dialogue is exposition-heavy, but there’s a good amount of humor and a few characterization moments to break it up. Ben Bates has an anime-infused art style that lends itself well to the Neutrinos’ look. Sharp chins, pointy ears and large eyeballs abound. The turtles themselves are rendered nicely, with varying looks among the four heroes.

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This book has managed to completely reignite my love of this franchise and is quickly becoming my favorite monthly read. If you’ve ever been a fan, this comic is a gift. Do yourself a favor and accept it.

Review by: Bob Chamberlain

Story: 7/10

Art: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

Godzilla #10

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Writer: Duane Swierczynski

Artist: Simon Gane

Color Artist: Ronda Pattinson

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of Godzilla #10, I thought it might be helpful to explore two of the Toho monsters heavily featured in this issue. That way even non-Godzilla fans (you people exist?) can get a little more of the inside jokes and what role both of these Toho monsters play in the large Godzilla universe.

Mothra: Mothra is unique among the Toho monsters for many reasons. One of the first (and coolest) things about Mothra is that she is female. She was probably created to draw female fans into the Godzilla universe. She’s kinda cute, fluffy, and even though she is supposed to be a moth she looks way more like a butterfly. And she also happens to be my FAVORITE monster in the Godzilla universe. Mothra, very much like Martha Jones from Doctor Who (I get 5 points for this reference), is the defender of the Earth. Unlike all the other Toho creatures (besides maybe Godzilla), she is trying to protect the Earth and NOT destroy it….which is exactly what she is doing in this issue. But if we know anything about Mothra it is that she almost always loses. She is accompanied by two tiny priestesses who are briefly shown in this issue.

Mechagodzilla: I’d say that Mechagodzilla is the evil robotic twin of Godzilla, but I’m not sure I would qualify Godzilla as good or bad. So for the time being, let’s just say that Mechagodzilla is Godzilla’s arch-nemesis. Whenever Mechagodzilla shows up you can be sure Godzilla won’t be far behind…which is exactly why he is featured in this issue.

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We start out this issue with our characters summing up the horrors that the Toho monsters have wrought upon the Earth. We see that the only monster so far that has attempted any kind of resistance was Mothra, who didn’t put up a great fight. Suddenly there is this realization that Godzilla may be the only shot humanity has of defending itself. Godzilla may, in this case, be the lesser of many evils.

Boxer’s son has snuck away from the team and has gotten ahold of Mechagodzilla. He figures operating Mechagodzilla may be the only way to save the Earth. And the first enemy he gets to face is the ever so disgusting Hedorah a.k.a. Smog Monster. That’s when we have our deus ex machina moment. Just as Boxer’s son is about to lose to the Smog Monster, Godzilla shows up to kick some ass and take some names. While this is going on, Hikari and Boxer are about to face off against Kumonga. But then Mechagodzilla flies in and helps them transport Kumonga back to the mainland. For what purpose, I have no idea.

The art this time certainly didn’t disappoint. Simon Gane and Ronda Pattison have once again done an amazing job. The cover alone is enough to make any Godzilla fan squeal. The colors are vivid and very much remind me of the original Godzilla films (when they were put into color of course). I also appreciate how they’ve really captured the image of these monsters. I especially adored Mothra and Hedora in this issue.

Overall the comic was much better plot-wise than #9. It was awesome to get to see Mechagodzilla and Mothra headlining this issue. The inclusion of Hedora, Kumonga, and Gigan was awesome. It didn’t feel forced or like too many monsters had been introduced. However, I feel like the story isn’t really moving at a pace I’d like to see. It seems like saving the world will probably end up taking at least 5 more issues. Which I guess is fine, but I’d like to see the story move quicker.

Review by: Ethan Lewis

Story: 6/10

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Art: 9/10

Overall: 7/10

 Happy! #4 (Image)

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Darick Robertson

Colors: Tony Avina 

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Grant Morrison (you might’ve heard of him) wraps up his latest creation, Happy! with its fourth issue. For those that haven’t been following this mini-series, it’s about a foul-mouthed mess of a cop, Nick Sax, who partners up with a hallucination: a blue flying horse named Happy. It’s certainly a strange and unique tale, but is it worth the read?

Yes. Happy! #4 provides a flawless conclusion to the series from Image Comics, one that is definitely worth the read, even if you only read the first issue of the series. There’s some awesomeness contained within the pages, with most of it is from Darick Robertson’s art and Tony Avina’s coloring. Grant Morrison’s story is a tale of a father’s heroism, albeit a foul-mouthed, low-life, drunken father.

The story, at its core, is good, and the conclusion (which I won’t spoil for you) was well written, but some aspects of Morrison’s writing grew tiring by the end of the first issue. For example, the excessive, and I do mean excessive, use of the F-Bomb and ultimate no-no (the C-Word) is way over the top, and almost takes too much away from the story to make it enjoyable. Almost. Morrison revives the story with Nick Sax’s redemption. Luckily, Morrison’s wrap-up of the series was a well thrown slider that just hits the corner of the plate, although the foul language is even more prevalent in this issue.

I enjoyed the fight scene between Nick and a priest, as well as the depiction of Santa Claus injecting drugs into his leg while sitting on the toilet. I laughed out loud, and that’s a feat rarely achieved in comics (although, the current Deadpool run is quite amusing, also). 

Darick Robertson’s artwork is very creative in this dark tale. Aside from the priest punching, and Santa injecting on the toilet, there is (of course) the blue little hallucination that is Happy. There’s something for everyone, right? Robertson’s detailed and dark artwork lends itself perfectly to Morrison’s writing, and I particularly enjoyed the awesome artwork during the priest versus Nick panels. Happy! #4 is certainly a mixed bag. You’ll find some goodies in there, but there are some duds as well. If you can look past the excessive adult language, it’s well worth the pick-up.

Review by: Robert Bernstein

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Story: 7/10

Artwork: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

 Black Beetle: No Way Out #2 (Dark Horse)

Story and Art: Francesco Francavilla

Oh, Black Beetle, it’s like somebody designed this comic with so many of my favorite things in mind. As a lover of pulp, serial, and radio heroes, and as a general sucker for any period pieces set in or around the Golden Age of comics, all you’ve gotta do is allude to any of these pieces of superhero history and you’re probably getting my four bucks. Throw Francesco Francavilla, the man who’s quickly become one of my favorite creators in the business, into the mix, and I’ll just keep shoveling money at you.

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Which brings me to Black Beetle: No Way Out #2. Alright, so it’s not as completely amazing as the first two issues (yes, I said “first two” as one of them was a zero issue), but that’s just kinda what you get in the middle act of comics these days. It is, however, still pretty darn cool. There’s no down time in a Black Beetle story, as every issue is paced like a radio show, serial, or pulp…which means that you just move from action sequence to action sequence until you hit an appropriate cliffhanger.

It’s a welcome relief from endless amounts of exposition, decompressed action sequences, and origin stories that dominate the first six months (or more) of any new character’s title. While, at some point, it might be nice to learn a little about the Beetle’s origins and motivations, it’s not really that important to the story at hand. It’s more important to see that the Black Beetle is pretty relentless in his pursuit of mobsters, helicopter-pack wearing Nazis, and the like. Oh, and he’s completely unfazed by grotesque, weird villains like this issue’s “Labyrinto.”

But therein lies the one small problem with this issue. A seemingly important character is introduced and dismissed in the space of a page and a half. While I generally like the breakneck pace of this title, this one left me saying, “Wait! Hold on a second!” Ah, but pulp-style storytelling waits for no man, and here, the Black Beetle had to extricate himself from a plethora of sewer rats and get himself to safety without drowning. I forgive you, Mr. Beetle, for not giving me all the answers I wanted in this comic. I’m coming back for more, no matter what.

Review by: Mike Cecchini

Story: 6/10

Art: 8/10

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Overall: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

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